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Diego Barrios

Summary of Rampart Scandal
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Diego Barrios was one of approximately 170 men and women wrongfully convicted because of misconduct uncovered in an investigation into the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart division.

Just after 11 p.m. on January 13, 1996, Barrios and several friends were hanging out in the parking lot of a Jack in the Box restaurant in the Rampart neighborhood when officers Rafael Perez and Samuel Martin arrived. Perez would later say: “I remember pulling in and we thought they were just out there drinking. But they were dirty all the way around. I mean, everybody had a little something.”

The officers made all the young men kneel on the ground and then searched them. One witness would later state that he did not see any indication that the officers found a weapon on Barrios. Several of the men were allowed to leave, but Barrios and three others – including a juvenile referred to as “Raymond C” – were placed in a police car and driven away.

While in the cruiser, Raymond dropped a handgun in the backseat. The officers discovered the gun after they reached the station and searched the cruiser. A witness would later say that Raymond told the officers that the gun was his, but the officers dismissed his statement. They did not want to arrest a juvenile, so they said the weapon belonged to Barrios. A friend of Barrios would later tell investigators that Barrios called him from jail and complained that the police were trying to “strike him out” – add another conviction to his record – by placing the gun on him.

At a preliminary hearing, Martin testified that the gun belonged to Barrios. Perez would similarly testify at a hearing on a motion to suppress the seized weapon. Barrios pled guilty to the weapons charge on September 27, 1996. The available records don’t indicate the length of his sentence, but by May of 1998 he had been released and deported to Mexico.

On August 17, 1998, Perez was charged with theft, possession of cocaine, and forgery. The jury deadlocked at his trial (with a majority voting for conviction) in December 1998. Police investigated further, and additional charges were filed against Perez. Just before his retrial on September 8, 1999, Perez pled guilty to eight drug charges and struck a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for a sentence of no more than five years in prison, he agreed to cooperate with an investigation into the Rampart operations.

Perez began talking two days later. Over the next year, he met with investigators from the police department and the district attorney’s office 29 times and detailed alleged misconduct committed by himself and his fellow officers.

Barrios filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming that he never possessed the weapon, and that Perez and Martin committed perjury in their pre-trial testimony. Investigators interviewed Perez about the case on April 5, 2000. He denied framing Barrios and said that everybody at the Jack in the Box was doing something illegal.

Other witnesses to the incident told investigators that wasn’t true, and that Perez and Martin tied the weapon to Barrios because he was the person with the most to lose from a conviction.

Despite Perez’s denial, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office sided with Barrios in his habeas petition, which was granted on July 19, 2000. It said it no longer had confidence in the conviction because false evidence and testimony might have been used against Barrios.

Barrios later sued the Los Angeles Police Department and other individuals for violating his civil rights. The lawsuit was settled in 2001 for an undisclosed amount.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 3/4/2021
Last Updated: 3/4/2021
State:California
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Convicted:1996
Exonerated:2000
Sentence:Unknown
Race/Ethnicity:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No