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Felipe Ordonez

Summary of Rampart Scandal
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Felipe Ordonez 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.

Ordonez, then 21 years old, was arrested on May 5, 199,7 by officers Rafael Perez and Nino Durden. The officers, who said in a report that a confidential informant had told them about a possible drug deal, charged Ordonez with a single count of possession of cocaine base. Another man, Melvi Nolasco, was also charged with possession; police said they had seen Nolasco hand a package of cocaine to Ordonez.

Ordonez pled guilty to a single count of possession on July 15, 1997, and was later sentenced to 180 days in the county jail and three years on 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 by himself and his fellow officers. These interviews formed the basis of nearly all of the exonerations in this group.

On November 17, 1999, Perez told investigators about false statements in the arrest report. The report said that the officers saw another man hand a bindle of cocaine to Ordonez, but Perez said that didn’t happen and neither man was in physical possession of cocaine at the time of their arrest.

“We never observed that,” said Perez. “When we approached him, we found the narcotics. We don't know who it came from. That's just the way – from what we learned from our informant – that's what we felt was actually probably going to happen. We figured out who the narcotics dealer was. And we figured that this other person was there purchasing it. So, that's how we wrote the story. The narcotics did come from them. It wasn't our narcotics, or we didn't plant any narcotics. But the way we wrote our observations was incorrect. Anywhere on this report where it says that we observed somebody dropping a bindle, that's incorrect. We either found it, it was sitting in a car, on the grill of the car or somewhere on the floor, or somewhere. But we never observed anyone actually drop it.”

Ordonez was interviewed separately by police detectives on December 28, 1999. With respect to his arrest on May 5, 1997, Ordonez recalled witnessing Nolasco drop a napkin filled with a substance that resembled rock cocaine. According to Ordonez, Nolasco asked him to admit possession of the cocaine, which Ordonez refused to do. While being detained, Ordonez was approached by Officer Nino Durden who stated, "this cocaine is yours." Ordonez told Officer Durden that the cocaine was not his. Ordonez denied ever accepting narcotics from Nolasco or dropping any narcotics to the ground.

On March 28, 2000, the District Attorney for Los Angeles County filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Ordonez. It was granted on March 30, when his conviction was vacated and charge dismissed.

Separate from his theft convictions, Perez later pled guilty to federal civil rights and firearms violations resulting from a Rampart-related shooting. Durden pled guilty to stealing drugs and money from a suspect and for covering up that 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. It’s not clear from available records whether Ordonez sought compensation. Almost all the claims were settled. 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: 6/30/2021
Last Updated: 6/30/2021
State:California
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1997
Convicted:1997
Exonerated:2000
Sentence:180 days
Race/Ethnicity:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No