Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Los Angeles Federal Crimes: Corrupt Cops on Trial

Posted on: January 16, 2008 at 12:15 a.m.

Who says there is no corruption in the police? Prosecutors frequently argue in drug possession cases that the officers finding the drugs are honest and reliable, such that their testimony should be believed. L.A. Criminal Defense Lawyers retort that we live in an imperfect world and that there are a few "bad apples" in any profession. It is left up the jury to decide whether the police, or that accused are telling the truth.

So what happens when the accused on trial are police officers? And further that the government uses others disgraced officers, as their witnesses, in their case in chief to prove corruption? A current criminal jury trial in Los Angeles provides an example of dirty dealing by local LAPD officers. During recent testimony, a former state corrections officer, sitting handcuffed in court, identified a Los Angeles police officer accused of participating in a series of home-invasion-style robberies staged to look like legitimate police raids, who is on trial. Rodrigo Duran, the former prison guard, told a federal court jury that he witnessed ex-LAPD officer William Ferguson commit several crimes while dressed in his police uniform, riding in a patrol car stolen from the police academy.

When asked to identify Ferguson for the record, Duran raised his cuffed hands and pointed a finger at the defendant, who sat impassively in a dark suit next to his attorney. Ferguson and his brother Joseph, a suspended Long Beach police officer, went on trial this week for their alleged involvement in a band of rogue officers and others accused of committing more than 30 robberies or attempted robberies at locations across Southern California.

These are not the only defendants, who are former police officers. The admitted ringleader in the case -- a former Los Angeles police officer Ruben Palomares -- and 14 other defendants have already pleaded guilty, and many have begun serving sentences in federal prison. The Ferguson brothers are the only defendants thus far to fight the charges detailed in a 54-count indictment alleging civil rights violations.

William Ferguson is accused of posing as Palomares' partner during many of the robberies, in which the officers and others allegedly stole drugs, money and other valuables while pretending to conduct narcotics raids between 1999 and 2001. Joseph Ferguson is accused of driving his brother and Palomares to the LAPD academy to steal cars to be used in the robberies and of acting as a lookout outside some of the locations while they were being robbed. He is also accused of making a fake 911 call that resulted in the arrest and eventual imprisonment of one of the drug dealers who had been providing information to them but was asking for a larger share of the take.

Prosecutors plan to call victims from at least 15 of the robberies to testify, according to a 43-page trial memorandum by Assistant U.S. Atty. Douglas M. Miller, the lead prosecutor on the case. They also plan to call Palomares to testify against his alleged former cohorts. Much of the testimony this week came from victims of robberies, who described people dressed as police arriving at their residences, saying they were there to search for drugs. Some said they were held at gunpoint or handcuffed as their houses were searched. One man wiped away tears as he described a 2001 encounter in which he said he was beaten with a baton and hit over the head with a sap because the "officers" didn't find the drugs they were looking for.

The most dramatic testimony came out recently when jurors began hearing from Duran, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors. He faces a potential life sentence but stands to receive a significant reduction as a result of his cooperation. Duran said he was recruited to join the ring by Palomares, a former high school buddy in Huntington Park. Duran said Palomares told him that another old friend -- this one a drug dealer -- was tipping him off to where rival dealers had stashes of drugs or cash. Under the deal they had worked out, Duran said, Palomares and his companions would show up at the locations dressed as police and say they were there to serve a search warrant for drugs. If they found any, they would turn them over to his dealer friend and her husband to sell and then get a cut of the profit. If they found money, they would split it.

"He said we'd be able make some money by doing the jobs she wanted us to do," Duran recalled under questioning by prosecutor Jeffrey S. Blumberg from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. Duran described several "jobs" he participated in along with Palomares and other crew members, including William Ferguson. Duran said Palomares and Ferguson would wear their LAPD uniforms, along with guns and badges, and employ police tactics while conducting the robberies. At one point, Duran said he looked on as the two officers, both in uniform, loaded a stolen 50-gallon drum filled with marijuana into the back of pickup truck owned by Palomares' cousin. Duran said the drugs were later sold and he received a $3,500 cut of the profit.

Blumberg asked Duran, who had no previous criminal record, why he accepted Palomares' invitation to become involved in the ring. "Greed," he said. "It was all about trying to help myself out because I was hurting financially." "Did you think you'd get caught?" the prosecutor asked.
"Never," Duran replied. "Why's that?" Blumberg asked. "Because we were law enforcement."

In sum, Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers must often present compelling arguments to a jury about why a client's story of police corruption is believable, despite the officers' denials. The pending trial of corrupt cops provides a great example that officers may be imperfect, have the same temptations as the rest of the public, and lie to cover up corruption.

Tagged as: federal law and defense, high profile defense


Mustafa Abdul-Hamid on May 12, 2009 at 11:14 p.m. wrote:

Cases of police corruption present a curious paradox on multiple levels, but I will address only one: The perception of LAPD corruption and prejudice was rampant in the 90s, so much that it overshadowed the empirical evidence that supported that it was LASD that was more inclined to corruption. LAPD was reknowned around the country for corruption. So logically prosecuting officers like these was essential to reform. And applying the rule of law to the actions of the law's enforcers helps to erode the feeling of invincibility that Duran describes in the last quote and further corruption. At the same time however, large media spectacles made out of such trials contribute to that public perception that all LAPD were corrupt...A fear of law enforcement. Why is that significant? A public that fears its law enforcement agents and believes them all corrupt and evil will not cooperate. It will thwart police efforts to crack down on crime and gang activity in neighborhoods. Is there a way to handle these cases without contributing to that public distrust? Yes it is simple, but I am not certain as to the extent that it has been done. The justice department and PD must make use of the media hype and attention. Yes, use these officers as an example to show both the people and the officers that illegal behavior by law enforcement is even more foul than civilian crime. BUT the latter must be accompanied by an increase funding to the public relations/affairs of the LAPD. If the relationship between the people and the LAPD is not constantly upkept, then it has the potential to erode into the situation that characterized the 70s, 80s, 90s. Especially in minority communities...no matter how fond people are of Chief Bratton.

Kelsey Kernstine on May 17, 2008 at 10:21 p.m. wrote:

This article is similar to the article above, dealing with police officers committing unlawful acts. However, this article is different in that it deals with police officers wearing their uniforms to commit several crimes involving drugs. When the L.A. criminal defense lawyer says,

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