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Oscar Ochoa

Summary of Rampart Scandal
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Oscar Ochoa 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.

Officers Rafael Perez and Armando Coronado arrested the 24-year-old Ochoa on July 10, 1997 and charged him with possession for sale of cocaine base. At the time, Ochoa was on probation for a previous possession conviction.

In the arrest report, the officers said they had received a tip about drugs being sold from a building on Westlake Avenue and had then seen Ochoa complete a drug transaction with an unknown Black man. They said they entered the apartment building and found cocaine in an upstairs closet in a common hallway.

Ochoa pled guilty to the single count on September 25, 1997. The arrest triggered a probation violation from his previous conviction, and he was sentenced to three years in prison on both charges, to be served concurrently. It’s not clear from available records when he was released.

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.

Ochoa did not serve his entire three-year sentence. According to reporting in the L.A. Weekly, he was rearrested on March 21, 2000 and charged with possession. By then, numerous Rampart defendants had been freed based on Perez’s disclosures of alleged misconduct. While in jail, worried about deportation, Ochoa filed a complaint with the Los Angeles Police Department alleging misconduct by Perez in the July 1997 arrest.

Investigators interviewed Perez about the Ochoa arrest twice, on April 14, 2000, and May 10, 2000. At first, Perez did not appear to remember the case, but as the investigators asked more questions, he recalled more details about the July 1997 arrest and said it was flawed.

The police report had said that the officers set up an observation post near the building and that Coronado saw Ochoa conduct a drug transaction. That established the probable cause to search the building. But Perez said there was no observation post; the area was too crowded. Instead, he said, the officers just banged on the fence outside the house until Ochoa answered. The officers then went inside, Perez said, and Coronado and Ochoa went upstairs, where the closet was searched and Coronado recovered the cocaine. In the report, Ochoa told the officers he was glad he was caught because he didn’t want to sell drugs anymore. But Perez said he never heard Ochoa make that statement.

Ochoa had told investigators that neither Perez nor Coronado asked for permission to enter his apartment and that officers threatened to deport him and members of his family if he didn’t cooperate. His wife said Coronado threatened to have her children taken away.

Perez said he didn’t recall asking for permission but believed that Ochoa gave some form of consent. He also acknowledged that the issue of deportation might have come up. “I think all those things are possible – or probable,” Perez said. “The one that I specifically recall is the children being taken away.”

The District Attorney for Los Angeles County filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus for Ochoa on June 19, 2000. It was granted on June 21, 2000, and Ochoa’s conviction was vacated and his charge dismissed.

Along with his cocaine theft and related charges, Perez later pled guilty to federal civil rights and firearms violations resulting from a Rampart-related shooting.

Coronado was brought before the city’s Board of Rights, which hears complaints against police officers. He was cleared of wrongdoing in this case. Ochoa’s testimony was viewed as inconsistent, and the truthfulness of Perez’s statements against Coronado were questioned because the two officers had frequently clashed because Coronado had told supervisors about Perez’s misdeeds.

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 Ochoa, 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: 6/25/2021
Last Updated: 6/25/2021
State:California
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1997
Convicted:1997
Exonerated:2000
Sentence:3 years
Race/Ethnicity:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No