On the afternoon of February 6, 1996, 36-year-old Miguel Malfavon, a drug dealer and Los Angeles street gang member, was fatally shot while standing outside of a McDonald’s restaurant at the corner of Temple and Alvarado Streets in the city’s Rampart District.
Rafael Perez and Sammy Martin, members of the Los Angeles Police CRASH unit, responded and identified a witness, 18-year-old Sonya Flores, who was close enough to the victim that her clothes were spattered with blood.
The officers reported later that after interviewing Flores, she identified five men as being involved in the murder.
All five were charged with murder. They pleaded no contest to manslaughter charges and each was sentenced to 12 years in prison. At the time, police said the convictions crippled the Temple Street gang, one of the oldest gangs in Los Angeles.
In the fall of 2000, nearly five years after the shooting, Flores came forward to say her identifications were false—that she made the identifications at the urging of Perez, a man with whom she had a romantic relationship beginning when she was 16. The defendants, Flores said, were plucked from a police book of gang members by Perez.
Two years earlier, Perez had fallen into disgrace after leveling revelations of corruption in the police department’s Rampart Division. His claims ignited a scandal that ultimately led to his conviction and the dismissal of more than 100—possibly as many as 150—convictions obtained by Rampart officers.
During the Rampart investigation, evidence surfaced of the relationship between Flores and Perez and defense attorneys for the five defendants began investigating.
In 2001, Flores was convicted in federal court of lying to authorities when she said she saw Perez and another officer kill three people and bury the bodies in Mexico. A search for the bodies was fruitless and Flores later admitted she had lied.
Flores made a statement to investigators from the police task force investigating the Rampart scandal that said in part that she “knowingly committed perjury during her testimony regarding the murder that occurred outside of the McDonald’s restaurant.”
As part of the investigation, a street gang member asserted that the shooting was set up by members of the CRASH unit and that the actual gunman was Perez. (Perez was never charged in the case.)
Lawyers for the five defendants filed a motion for a new trial and in August 2001, Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler granted the motion. On September 24, 2001, Fidler dismissed the charges at the request of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and ordered Adams, 32; Davalos, 22; Jesse Alvarez, 25; Jorge Alvarez, 29, and Menendez, 29, freed.
All five men filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the city of Los Angeles. In November 2004, the city settled four of the cases. Adams received $800,000, Menendez received $475,000, Davalos received $850,000 and Jorge Alvarez received $850,000. In January 2005, the city agreed to pay Jesse Alvarez $300,000.
– Maurice Possley