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Javier Ovando

Summary of Rampart Scandal
On October 12, 1996, Officers Rafael Perez and Nino Durden of the Los Angeles Police Department shot 19-year-old Javier Ovando inside an abandoned apartment building in the Rampart neighborhood west of the city’s downtown.

Ovando was shot in the chest and neck and left paralyzed from the waist down. He was charged with two counts of assault on a police officer and one count of exhibiting a firearm in the presence of a police officer.

At preliminary hearing on November 26, 1996, Perez testified about what he said happened in the seconds before the shooting. He said that he and Durden were using an apartment as an observation post to monitor drug activity in the neighborhood. Ovando, he said, burst into the apartment, holding a Tec-22 semiautomatic pistol. Durden fired first, then Perez, hitting Ovando four times. When backup officers arrived, Ovando was on the floor, bleeding heavily, with the pistol at his side.

Ovando’s trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court began on February 13, 1997. Perez and Durden both testified about how they had thwarted Ovando’s potential attack, which the prosecution suggested was an attempt to kill the officers for threatening the livelihood of local drug dealers.

Ovando had remembered little in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. But near the trial’s start, he told his attorney that he was unarmed and that he had been shot for no apparent reason. Ovando had no criminal record, but he was a gang member, and his attorney said that testifying would allow prosecutors to attack his credibility.

The jury convicted Ovando of the three counts on February 20, 1997, and he was sentenced to 23 years and four months in prison. The judge declined a request for leniency because, he said, Ovando showed no remorse.

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 division’s operations. At the top of his list was problems with Javier Ovando’s conviction, which Perez said had weighed heavily on him.

On September 10, 1999, in his first interview with investigators from the police department and prosecutors with the District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Perez told investigators a different story than what he had described in his report and testimony. He said that he and Durden were in an apartment on the fourth floor of the building on 12th and Lake streets. It was dark outside. Perez was by the window, and Durden was near the door.

Perez said that all of a sudden, he heard Durden say, “What the fuck?” Perez said he quickly walked over to Durden’s location. There was a man in the doorway. Durden had his weapon drawn, and Perez said he drew his gun as well. “We had – Durden had his light on him,” Perez said. “And I started – I got my light out. And I know I started pointing my light at him as I was walking over. Uh, at no time did I see a gun on him.”

Durden then fired his gun, and Perez fired as well. He initially thought he only fired once, but it was actually three times. Ovando dropped to the floor.

Quickly, Durden left the apartment and went out into the hallway, Perez said. He returned with a red rag, walked over to Ovando and then let a weapon fall out of the rag. Perez said the Tec-22 had been found during a sweep a few days earlier, and that Durden kept the weapon and filed off the serial numbers.

“I'm going to say this.” Perez said. “And I have to say it. That we kept it just to have it in case something like this were to occur, or something, you know – I – what exactly we kept it for I don't know. Everybody was keeping – you know, kept one. Everybody.”

Investigators interviewed Ovando at the Salinas Valley State Prison on September 11, 1999. He said that contrary to Perez’s statement, the apartment building wasn’t abandoned. He lived there, on the same floor as the observation post. Ovando said that the officers had harassed him the day before the shooting, then knocked on his door the day of the shooting, demanding to come inside. Ovando said he was handcuffed by the officers, and then shot.

The district attorney’s office filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Ovando’s behalf on September 16, 1999. The petition said that “perjury may have been committed at Ovando's trial and that the judgment of conviction should be overturned.” It also said prosecutors had been unaware of the perjury until September 8, 1999. The petition was granted on September 16, 1999.

Ovando’s conviction was vacated, and his charges dismissed. He was immediately released from prison and flown back to Los Angeles to meet his young daughter—who had been born after his conviction—for the first time.

Durden pled guilty to state and federal charges related to the Ovando shooting and was sentenced to five years in prison. Separate from his earlier theft and fraud convictions, Perez pled guilty to violating Ovando’s civil rights and a firearm violation and was sentenced to two years in prison.

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. 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. The largest single award was to Ovando, who received $15 million.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 3/4/2021
Last Updated: 3/4/2021
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1996
Sentence:23 years and 4 months
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No