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Jose Lara

Summary of Rampart Scandal
Jose Lara was one of approximately 170 men and women wrongfully convicted because of misconduct by officers in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart division.

Officers Rafael Perez and Nino Durden arrested Lara, then 21 years old, on February 4, 1997 and charged him with unlawful possession of a firearm. Lara pled guilty on February 13, 1997 and received three years of probation.

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 would 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.

Perez spoke with investigators twice about Lara’s case. Both times, he said that Lara never possessed a gun. Durden planted the weapon, Perez said.

“We were traveling westbound on 8th Street from Alvarado. We see a male Hispanic, kind of a round-faced guy,” Perez said. “I'm not going to say he was husky, but he had a round face. Light-skinned. He ran across the street from the south going north, across the street jaywalking and into an alley.”

“I pulled my car into the alley behind him. And when he sees us, you know, we're getting out of the car, he stops. You know, we walk over to him, detain him. While we're interviewing him, he's sort of being real nonchalant, kind of talking about how proud he was that he had committed an assault against a police officer and got off with a misdemeanor. Some real light time, or something like that. At that point, there was a decision made that he was gonna go for a gun. And he was arrested for a gun.”

Back at the Rampart police substation, Perez said, Durden found a gun that had been seized in another raid and used an electric engraver to scratch out the weapon’s serial numbers, which made the possession charge a felony.

Perez wrote the police report, which falsely said that Lara had dropped a gun just before the officers detained him. The report also falsely said that Lara gave a statement to the officers that he had shaved off the gun’s serial numbers and that officers had read him his Miranda rights.

On January 25, 2000, the District Attorney for Los Angeles County filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Lara’s behalf. It was granted that same day, and Lara’s charge was dismissed.

Durden later pled guilty to state and federal charges including fabricating evidence, false arrest, and presenting false testimony. Separate to the theft and related charges, Perez also pled guilty to federal civil rights and firearms violations.

More than 200 lawsuits were filed against the city by persons wrongfully convicted because of the Rampart misconduct or those who claimed they had been falsely arrested. Lara was one of the plaintiffs, and he received a settlement of $120,000. There is no public final accounting of the Rampart settlements, although a report from 2007 said the city had paid out $75 million, and more recent reports put the figure at closer to $125 million.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 12/14/2021
Last Updated: 2/2/2022
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1997
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No