L O S A N G E L E S, April 20, 2001 -- The judge presiding over about 100 federalpolice corruption lawsuits has ruled the city's police departmentcan be sued as a racketeering enterprise.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess could lead to asharp increase in the city's financial liability from the policecorruption scandal in which some members of the Rampart station'santi-gang unit allegedly robbed, beat, framed and shot suspects.
Legal experts say the ruling is groundbreaking because no policedepartment or major police official has ever been held liable underthe federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The RICO law originally was enacted to fight organized crime,but has been used over the past three decades in cases ranging fromstock manipulation to health-care fraud.
In addition to presiding over about 100 Rampart cases, Feess isoverseeing the consent decree between the city and the federalgovernment that was formulated to avert a civil rights lawsuitplanned by the U.S. Justice Department.
More Than 100 Convictions Overturned
Feess' written ruling, issued late last week, came as part of alawsuit filed by Los Angeles resident D'Novel Hunter, who claims hespent four years in prison after being framed on a charge ofpossessing cocaine for sale by former Officer Rafael Perez.
Perez, the central figure in the scandal, told of misdeeds byRampart police in exchange for a lighter sentence for stealingcocaine from an evidence room.
More than 100 convictions have been set aside since theallegations became public in 1999. The city has paid millions ofdollars to settle dozens of lawsuits, and officials have previouslyestimated they could pay as much as $125 million.
Hunter's case is not among those that have been overturned.