Monday, February 02, 2009

Feds Launch Investigation of Several LAPD Officers Accused of Lying

Federal authorities have launched a civil rights investigation into several Los Angeles police officers accused of lying under oath in a drug possession case that was dismissed last year when a videotape sharply contradicted their testimony.

An FBI agent and a federal prosecutor last week surveyed a Hollywood apartment complex where a security camera documented the 2007 arrest of Guillermo Alarcon Jr. by LAPD officers, according to an attorney who represents Alarcon in a civil claim against the Police Department.

An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the existence of the probe and said that Department of Justice officials in Washington, D.C., would ultimately weigh in on whether federal charges would be filed against the officers.

"We're investigating allegations that the defendant's civil rights may have been violated," said spokeswoman Laura Eimiller. She declined to provide further details.

Deputy Public Defender Victor Acevedo, Alarcon's defense attorney during last year's trial, said the FBI interviewed him about the case in December. He said that his client had been framed and that the officers deserved to face criminal charges.

"They have no business being police officers," Acevedo said. "Because they were willing to send an innocent man to prison, for what they did they should go to prison."

The officers have denied wrongdoing.

The federal investigation is but one of several probes into accusations that the officers committed perjury. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has launched its own criminal investigation and the LAPD is conducting an internal affairs review of the case.

Luis Carrillo, Alarcon's civil attorney, said the FBI had yet to interview his client but that two district attorney's investigators and a prosecutor interviewed Alarcon about the case in August.

At Alarcon's trial in June, Officers Richard Amio and Evan Samuel testified that they were on patrol in Los Angeles when they chased Alarcon, 29, into his Hollywood apartment building. The officers told jurors that they saw him throw away a black object. They testified that Samuel quickly picked up the object and found about $260 worth of powder and crack cocaine inside.

But footage from a security camera at the apartment building, which is managed by Alarcon's mother, showed that officers searched for more than 20 minutes before an object allegedly containing cocaine was found.

They were aided by other officers, including Manuel Ortiz, who testified about the case at a preliminary hearing in January.

The quality of the tape, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, is poor and it is difficult to clearly hear what is being said.

But at one point, soon after the drugs were found, an officer seems to make a reference to the arrest report that needed to be filled out.

"Be creative in your writing," the officer appears to tell another after the discovery.

Acevedo argued at trial that his client was innocent and that the officers had planted evidence and then lied about it.

After viewing the videotape, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner dismissed the charges at the request of prosecutors. The judge also declared Alarcon factually innocent.

Ira Salzman, an attorney representing Samuel and Ortiz, said his clients testified truthfully in the case.

He said prosecutors had concluded that the tape was edited in two places to remove about 13 seconds of sound.

Salzman cautioned that he had yet to view a complete version of the video but said that he believed that the officers did pick up an object containing drugs but continued to search for more.

"They testified truthfully to the best of their ability," he said. "I believe that they're good officers and good men."

The video begins after Alarcon already had been taken into custody. But in the police report and during their testimony, the officers mentioned finding only one object containing drugs.

LAPD Cmdr. Rick Webb, who oversees the department's internal affairs group, said the agency's probe is continuing.

He declined to comment further, citing state laws that protect the privacy of police officers accused of misconduct.

Samuel, who left the LAPD and joined the Chino Police Department in February, was fired while on probation in Chino two weeks after The Times reported on Alarcon's case, a Chino spokeswoman said.


Deputy Gregoire Morency Fired for Slapping Inmate


A Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office deputy has been fired for allegedly slapping a teenage inmate in handcuffs and then lying about it to investigators.

Deputy Gregoire Morency had worked at the sheriff's office since November 2007.

According to investigators, Morency slapped the inmate in the face while transporting him in the county jail.

Sheriff's investigators said Morency lied about telling his sergeant about his use of force. Officials said he was also neglectful of his duties and used excessive force and profanity.

Another deputy was suspended for five days because he witnessed the incident but did not report the battery to supervisors or medical staff.

The 17-year-old is now serving five years in another facility on burglary and robbery charges.

Highway Patrol Sgt. Richard Davenport Indicted for Fondling Child Faces 2nd Trial

A Mississippi Highway Patrol master sergeant from Warren County under indictment for fondling a child in Oktibbeha County will face trial here Monday on the charge for a second time. Richard Dane Davenport, 45, of 407 Warren St., Vicksburg, was indicted by the Oktibbeha County Grand Jury on the fondling charge in January.

Judge Jim Kitchens will preside over Davenport’s trial in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court, which opens with jury selection at 9 a.m. today.

The charge stems from an incident on Sept. 23, 2007, in Oktibbeha County, involving a young boy under the age of 16, according to the indictments.

The local incident reportedly took place while Davenport was in town attending Mississippi State’s football game against Gardner-Webb University on the day in question. Information on the specific circumstances of the incident — including the time of day and location where it occurred — have not been made public.

Brandon Ogburn and Jean Vaughn with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office are prosecuting the case since Davenport is a state employee and since he is charged with offenses in two counties. Attorney John Zeibst of Lawton, Okla., is defending Davenport.

In Davenport’s first trial in October 2008, Kitchens was forced to declare a mistrial based upon the improper admission of a character evidence, though he found that the error was invited by Davenport’s attorneys.

Zelbst’s opening statements in the case were interrupted twice by potential witnesses, including the reported victim. These interruptions, however, were not what led to the mistrial.

Prior to the start of the trial, Kitchens had ruled that testimony related to Davenport’s alleged rape of the victim was inadmissible.

During the prosecution’s case, the victim, 15, was called to the stand, and, while answering questions under cross-examination from Zelbst, the victim referred to being raped by Davenport three separate times.

Zelbst then moved for a mistrial, which Kitchens granted, though he stated the defense attorney’s “not well-crafted” questions “invited the error.” Family members said Zelbst purposely elicited the testimony to get Davenport’s case thrown out.

Davenport also faces nine similar charges in Warren County stemming from incidents alleged to have occurred between October 1999 and August 2007. A mistrial was also declared in Davenport’s Warren County trial in September 2008. Jurors deliberated for about four hours in that case before reporting back to the judge they were deadlocked and could not reach a verdict. He faces a second trial in Vicksburg on May 11.

Davenport remains on administrative leave with the MHP until the charges against him are resolved.

Video of Excessive Force Shows Different Verison of What Happened

From the video captured by two Millville Police car dashboard cameras, emerge two very different versions of what happened in the pre-dawn hours of February 3, 2008.

The just-released video is at the center of a lawsuit in which Sheila Stevenson, 42, claims she became the victim of excessive force, after then-Millville Police Officer Carlo Drogo pulled her over for illegally riding her bicycle on a sidewalk.

In the course of trying to handcuff Stevenson, the video shows Drogo as he sprays himself in the face with pepper spray and she appears to push him. Drogo then appears to knock Stevenson to the ground to subdue her. Drogo is seen, seemingly doubled over in pain, as other officers arrive.

“I am not doing nothing,” Stevenson screamed on the video.

“Put your hands behind your back,” one of the other officers ordered.

“Can you not do this? I’m not doing nothing! I’m not doing nothing,” she wailed.

Seconds later, Drogo approaches Stevenson again and appears to punch her four times.

“Why are you hitting me? You’re hitting me! Why are you hitting me?” Stevenson cried out. “Why did you hit me and I’m handcuffed?”

Stevenson was eventually led away by officers and put into a police cruiser. She was later convicted of resisting arrest.

Stevenson’s civil suit, filed in Cumberland County Superior Court in December, names Drogo, other Millville Police officers and the city of Millville as defendants.

READ: Stevenson’s Civil Suit Complaint

Stevenson’s lawyer would not comment on the case, nor would Millville’s Police chief, citing pending litigation.

Drogo resigned from the police department in October for undisclosed reasons. He would not talk with NBC 10 News on-camera, but issued a statement in which he stood by his actions and called Stevenson’s allegations a distortion of the facts.

Drogo also insisted the arrest was lawful and described Stevenson’s lawsuit as frivolous.

Meanwhile, there’s now a warrant out for Stevenson’s arrest on drug possession charges, stemming from her encounter with police that was caught on camera.