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Testimony in LAPD corruption trial centers on alleged gun planting

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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Taking the stand in the corruption trial of four former police officers, two gang members testified Tuesday they saw an officer plant a gun on a fellow gang member while they were in custody.

Donacino Diaz, a gang member currently serving a prison sentence on a weapon possession conviction, could not identify the officer but claimed he was present when a police officer placed a weapon on Allan Lobos during a 1996 arrest.

Another gang member, Mervin Sanchez, testified he saw a police officer place Lobos' finger in the trigger of a gun after the men were arrested and taken to a police station.

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Among other charges, Sgts. Edward Ortiz and Brian Liddy and Officer Paul Harper face criminal conspiracy and perjury charges involving the alleged planting of a gun on Lobos. Prosecutors say officers framed Lobos during a gang sweep at a party.

A fourth officer, Michael Buchanan, faces other charges in the so-called Rampart scandal, named for the police station at the center of the Los Angeles Police Department's most extensive corruption investigation in years. The officers served in the LAPD anti-gang unit known as CRASH, which has since been disbanded.

Prosecutor Anne Ingalls asked Diaz, who was at the scene that night and who was also arrested, "Did someone bring a gun and plant it on Lobos?"

"Yes," Diaz answered. "I saw an officer put one on his hand." Diaz did not identify the officer who allegedly planted the gun.

Under cross-examination, defense lawyer Barry Levin asked Diaz, "Did you tell anyone you saw an officer put a gun on your buddy? Did you report it to anybody?"

"No," answered Diaz.

The police officers said they recovered a gun Lobos had hidden on the wheel of a nearby car in a parking lot where he was hiding.

Prosecutors claim when Lobos and other gang members were taken to the police station, the officers planted the gun on him by rubbing it on his hands while he was handcuffed.

Ingalls asked Sanchez, who was also arrested that night, "Did you see officers bring out a gun at the station?"

"Yes," he said. "An officer came and grabbed Lobos' hand and put his finger in the trigger."

Diaz and Sanchez told defense attorneys they could not remember the officer who allegedly planted a gun on Lobos because the incident occurred over four years ago and both had no prior contact with the accused officer.

Diaz and Sanchez were released and never charged in that incident.

A third witness, Gina Rivas, who attended the 1996 party, told prosecutors she did not see Lobos with a gun before his arrest but could not remember specific details about his whereabouts that night.

Lobos pleaded guilty to felony weapon possession and was sentenced to state prison. His conviction was overturned after former LAPD officer-turned-informant Rafael Perez told investigators that he was involved in the arrest and believes a gun was planted. Lobos is currently serving a life sentence for an unrelated murder conviction.

Perez is a former Rampart officer who, in exchange for leniency on a felony cocaine conviction, has told investigators that he and many of his colleagues routinely planted evidence, framed, and even shot innocent people.

Prosecutors have not decided whether to call Perez as a witness because of concerns about his credibility. Last week, federal investigators began searching for two alleged murder victims after a former mistress of Perez's claimed the officer and his partner murdered two people and buried their bodies in Tijuana, Mexico. Perez and his partner deny those allegations.

Since Perez began detailing stories of officer misconduct, more than 100 criminal convictions have been overturned and at least 70 officers are under investigation.



RELATED STORIES:
Indictments issued for two former LAPD officers
October 23, 2000
Witness testifies truck never hit LAPD officers
October 23, 2000
Judge rules testimony concerning alleged Perez murders is irrelevant
October 20, 2000
Gang member testifies LAPD officers tried to frame him
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Former deputy D.A. testifies in trial of 4 LAPD officers
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Mexican authorities dig for alleged victims of Rafael Perez
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LAPD trial starts with attacks on former officer Perez
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Los Angeles City Council agrees to federal police reforms
September 20, 2000
Current and former LA police officers sue department for $100 million
August 24, 2000
Los Angeles police officer pleads guilty to civil rights violations
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LAPD officer pleads guilty to federal civil rights charges
August 4, 2000

RELATED SITES:
American Civil Liberties Union
Pittsburgh Police Bureau
Los Angeles Police Department Web site
Justice Department Civil Rights Division
Los Angeles County District Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California
Federal Bureau of Investigation


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