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Rafael Zambrano

Summary of Rampart Scandal
Rafael Zambrano and Ivan Oliver were two 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.

Oliver, who was 20 years old, and Zambrano, who was 21 years old, were arrested in the early morning of July 28, 1996, after officers went to break up a party at an abandoned house on the eastern edge of the Rampart district. Both men were charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon. Information about their previous convictions is not available.

Oliver pled guilty on October 24, 1996, and received a prison sentence of 2 years and 8 months. Zambrano pled guilty on May 19, 1997, and received a prison sentence of 16 months.

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 by himself and his fellow officers. These interviews formed the basis of nearly all of the exonerations in this group.

Perez was one of the officers involved in the arrests of Oliver and Zambrano. On October 1, 1999, he said that the arrests did not happen as they were reported.

The police report said: “Perez saw Defendant Zambrano in the backyard of the location. Saw others at the party warning him of L.A.P.D.'s arrival. Saw Defendant Zambrano drop a stainless steel, semi-automatic handgun on the concrete walkway and recovered the gun.”

But Perez said that didn’t actually happen. Instead, he saw somebody drop the gun after police descended on the party, and the persons in attendance began to run. Perez said he wasn’t sure it was Zambrano, but that didn’t really matter.

“I think, when it came right down to it, Officer [Brian] Hewitt just told me who was gonna go for it,” Perez said. “And you know, Zambrano was the person that we saw – or that we said that placed the gun there.”

Oliver’s arrest happened in similar fashion. Perez said officers Daniel Lujan and Omar Veloz wrote in a report that they saw Oliver toss a weapon as he ran and then Veloz found the gun in some grass. Veloz testified about the events at Oliver’s preliminary hearing. But the account was false, Perez said. “It was recovered inside the house, ‘cause I was there when it was recovered.”

The District Attorney for Los Angeles County filed separate petitions for writs of habeas corpus on behalf of Zambrano and Oliver. They were granted on February 17, 2000, and the charges were dismissed later that day.

Hewitt was fired for allegedly beating a gang member at the police station. He was never prosecuted. Officer Doyle Stepp, who co-wrote Zambrano’s arrest report, resigned from the force. Lujan was reprimanded for his misconduct in this case. Veloz remained on active duty. Separate from his fraud and drug convictions, Perez later pled guilty to civil-rights violations involving other Rampart-related misconduct.

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. Zambrano received a settlement of $550,000.

Almost all the lawsuits 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: 12/13/2021
Last Updated: 2/2/2022
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Sentence:1 year and 4 months
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No