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Los Angeles police scandal may be helping the guilty
From Charles Feldman in Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Are criminals getting off the hook because of police misbehavior?
There is growing alarm among some Los Angeles judges that that is one effect of the mushrooming police scandal, known as Rampart, named after a division in the city's police department. The scandal broke in September.
In maybe a dozen cases thus far, there is growing evidence to suggest that jurors are simply refusing to believe police testimony in court, said Larry Fidler, supervising judge for the Los Angeles Superior Court Criminal Division.
The spillover may be from the unfolding police corruption scandal. It has been alleged that officers in the now-disgraced anti-gang Rampart Division fabricated evidence, lied in court to win convictions on false charges, perjured themselves, committed assaults and even shot people.
At least 99 people, the police chief thinks, were wrongly and falsely accused by apparently corrupt cops working out of the Rampart Division.
At least 32 criminal cases have been reversed as a result of the investigation, and 20 officers have been relieved of duty, suspended or fired or have quit.
Now, says Fidler, "We are starting to see, based upon the information I get from the judges I supervise, that verdicts are being affected, not so much from the evidence that was presented in a particular case, but based, apparently -- because there appears to be no other reason -- on the Rampart scandal."
Fidler continued, "It is also very terrible when people who are overwhelmingly guilty walk away when the only reason is because there is a general feeling now in the public -- if that's what it's coming to -- that police officers' testimony can't be trusted. And that would be a terrible result of what's taking place in Rampart."
Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said the scandal may have a positive result.
"For far too long, jurors and judges believed police officers and have given additional weight to the testimony of police officers," Ripston said. "So very often, innocent people have been convicted, and I think we're beginning to see a balance now because of the Rampart scandal."
Los Angeles police chief: 'We must keep doing our jobs'
The Los Angeles Police Department
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