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Second LAPD officer enters plea agreement in corruption scandal

Nino Durden
Nino Durden, right, is expected to corroborate his former partner Rafael Perez's claims of a "culture of corruption" within the Los Angeles Police Department.  

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The former partner of the man who has so far been the key informant in the ongoing Los Angeles Police corruption scandal has agreed to a plea agreement with federal and state authorities, officials said Friday.

Former Los Angeles police Officer Nino Durden pleaded guilty to six state felony charges and was sentenced to seven years and eight months in prison, said Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley.

Durden also is expected to enter guilty pleas Monday to four federal conspiracy charges, said U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas, and may be sentenced to additional prison time.

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Durden has agreed to cooperate with investigators as the corruption probe continues, Cooley said.

"We're at a very critical stage," the district attorney said, admitting investigators didn't know if they were "winding down or winding up" after Durden's plea bargain and the cooperation from two other officers charged last week on state charges.

"We now have three officers, perhaps a fourth -- uncharged-- who are talking to the authorities and investigators. That could take to us various directions," he said.

Investigators are hoping that these agreements will revive what had been a stalled probe. Previously, the only informant in the case had been Durden's former partner, Rafael Perez, whose arrest on drug charges started the corruption scandal in the LAPD Rampart Division's troubled former anti-drug and anti-gang division, known as CRASH.

Perez has state immunity in exchange for his cooperation in the Rampart investigation.

The probe has revealed alleged police abuses that range from planting evidence to shooting unarmed suspects.

Durden originally was charged with attempted murder, but Cooley said that charge was dropped because "the facts didn't support it." Instead, he pleaded guilty to one charge of obstruction of justice, two charges of perjury, two charges of filing a false police report, and one charge of grand theft.

The attempted murder charge came in the case that came to symbolize the corruption probe, the shooting of Javier Francisco Ovando in 1996. Perez told authorities he and Durden shot Ovando, planted a gun on him and committed perjury to secure a conviction.

Cooley said the investigation showed that Ovando was shot because he made a quick move that made the officers think he was going for a gun.

Ovando was struck in the head, chest and hip and left paralyzed. A jury convicted him in 1997, and he was sentenced to a maximum of 23 years in state prison for attacking Durden and Perez.

But Perez later revised his account, saying Durden, after shooting Ovando, left the scene and returned from his patrol car with a rifle seized during an earlier gang sweep. After planting the gun, Perez claimed both officers concocted a phony story to cover up for the shooting, according to documents obtained by CNN.

Ovando was released from state prison last year after serving nearly three years for a crime, authorities now believe, he did not commit. In November, Ovando reached a settlement with the city of Los Angeles for $15 million, the largest police abuse civil settlement in city history.

Perez has told authorities that he and Durden framed as many as 99 people during their anti-gang assignments.

Perez's revelations about alleged misconduct have so far led to state charges against eight officers, including Durden.

The scandal has led to more than 100 criminal convictions being overturned and the city of Los Angeles signing a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department requiring federal oversight of the police department's management and training policies.

Seventy officers have been investigated in connection with the scandal since it emerged in 1999.



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