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Russell Newman

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

Newman’s is the earliest known wrongful conviction tied to the Rampart misconduct. He was arrested outside a liquor store on December 11, 1991, and charged with sale of a controlled substance after a team of undercover officers said he sold one of them $20 of crack cocaine. At the time, he was 41 years old and had six previous felony convictions.

At a preliminary hearing in Los Angeles Municipal Court on December 27, 1991, Officer Rafael Perez testified about the transaction. The case was then moved to Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Newman’s trial, along with that of his co-defendant, Sam Butler, began on June 16, 1992. Perez again testified, as did Officer Troy Gaitan. Perez said he was working undercover and approached a woman near a liquor store on Hollywood Avenue and Western Boulevard, asking her whether she could get him a “twenty,” meaning $20 of crack. They walked to the liquor store, Perez said, and the woman then approached Newman and Butler.

Perez said Butler gave Newman an object that Newman took to Perez and sold to him for $20. Perez said he gave the orders to arrest Butler and Newman, and Newman threw the $20 bill over a fence. His report said that Newman dropped the money, rather than threw it. Gaitan testified that he did not see the transaction itself, only Newman tossing the money rather than dropping it.

The third and final witness was Eric Carter, who testified on behalf of Butler. He said there was no drug transaction. Newman was only trying to sell a gold chain outside the liquor store. Butler was acquitted. The jury convicted Newman of the sale of a controlled substance on June 18, 1992, and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

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 that he and his fellow officers committed. Perez said he had falsified arrest reports and given false testimony. The interviews did not include any discussion of Newman’s arrest, which happened at another precinct more than six years before the Rampart scandal broke.

On March 23, 2000, Newman filed a writ for a petition of habeas corpus to vacate his conviction. He was now on parole, after serving six years of his sentence. He said he had been framed by Perez and the other officers. He said Carter’s testimony about the gold chain was correct.

“Both at the preliminary hearing and at trial, Officer Rafael Perez testified that I had sold him some narcotics and discarded a twenty-dollar bill,” Newman wrote in a statement accompanying the petition. “Mr. Perez was lying and his perjury resulted in my conviction.”

Newman said his attorney advised him not to testify against Perez because taking the stand would allow the introduction into evidence of his criminal record.

On April 27, 2000, the District Attorney for Los Angeles County filed a motion in support of Newman’s petition. The court granted the motion on May 4, 2000, and the conviction was vacated and the charge dismissed.

Along with his convictions on the theft and related charges, Perez was separately convicted of civil-rights and firearm violations in a Rampart-related shooting.

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. Almost all were settled. Newman sued the city, but it unclear whether he received a settlement. There is no public final accounting, 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: 7/16/2021
Last Updated: 7/16/2021
State:California
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1991
Convicted:1992
Exonerated:2000
Sentence:12 years
Race/Ethnicity:Don't Know
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:41
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No