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Raul Munoz

Summary of Rampart Scandal
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Raul Munoz and Cesar Natividad were two of approximately 170 men and women wrongfully convicted because of misconduct uncovered in an investigation into the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart division.

Munoz, then 23 years old, and Natividad, who was 27 years old, were arrested on July 19, 1996, after a confrontation in an alley with several police officers. The arrest report said that Munoz and Natividad got into Munoz’s pickup and drove off. As they sped down the alley, the report said, Munoz hit Officer Michael Buchanan and Natividad opened the passenger door and hit Officer Brian Liddy. Neither officer was seriously injured. Munoz and Natividad were each charged with assault on a police officer and personal use of a deadly and dangerous weapon.

Buchanan testified about the assaults at a preliminary hearing on August 22, 1996. Munoz and Natividad each pled guilty to the charges on December 17, 1996. Munoz, the driver, was sentenced to three years in prison. Natividad received 227 days in the county jail and three years on probation.

On August 17, 1998, Officer Rafael Perez of the Los Angeles Police Department 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.

On November 17, 1999, Perez discussed the arrests of Munoz and Natividad with investigators. He said he was with Liddy, Buchanan and the other officers on the day of the incident, and that the filed report contained numerous false statements.

Perez said he and the other officers were on foot when they came upon Munoz and Natividad in an alley on the northeast edge of the Rampart district. As the officers approached, heading north, Munoz and Natividad jumped into the truck and drove south. They drove past the officers, at approximately 25 or 30 miles per hour, then ran into a tree after making a sharp turn onto Clayton Avenue. The two men ran but were later caught.

Perez said that neither Liddy nor Buchanan was hit by the truck, although Buchanan might have received a scrape on the leg as he tried to avoid getting hit. Later, Perez said, Sgt. Eddie Ortiz told Buchanan to break the windshield on the truck to help sell the story that Buchanan had been hit.

“There's no cover-up here. It was mostly enhancing any type of evidence, or trying to obtain some evidence that wasn't there so that we can have an actual arrest and conviction of a particular crime. We didn't particularly plant any particular evidence or covered-up anything. It was mostly – it was decided, you know what, break the windshield so it will look at, you know, when you got hit, you went over it, hit the windshield, and landed. And, you know, that makes it look a little bit better. You know, it makes it look more believable as well.”

He said the officers added the part about the passenger door in order to have something to use to make an arrest of Natividad. After Perez gave his statement to investigators, Munoz and Natividad were interviewed separately. Both men said they were in the truck in the alley but didn’t hit anybody with the truck or the door as they drove away.

The District Attorney for Los Angeles County filed separate petitions for writs of habeas corpus for Munoz and Natividad on February 17, 2000. They were granted that day and charges were dismissed. Munoz had already completed his sentence and been deported to El Salvador.

The four principal officers involved with these arrests – Liddy, Ortiz, Buchanan, and Paul Harper – were later charged with obstruction of justice and related crimes. Harper was acquitted, and the others were convicted but later had their convictions overturned because of insufficient evidence. They then sued the city of Los Angeles for malicious prosecution and received a settlement of $20.5 million.

More than 200 lawsuits were filed against the city by persons wrongfully convicted because of the Rampart misconduct or by those who claimed they had been falsely arrested. Almost all, including a claim by Munoz, were settled. It’s not clear from available records if Natividad filed a claim. There is no public final accounting of the settlement for these cases, 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: 9/20/2021
Last Updated: 9/20/2021
State:California
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1996
Convicted:1996
Exonerated:2000
Sentence:3 years
Race/Ethnicity:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No