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Juan Suares

Summary of Rampart Scandal
Juan Suares was one of approximately 170 men and women wrongfully convicted because of misconduct by officers in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart division.

Officers Rafael Perez and Nino Durden arrested Suares, then 21 years old, on September 2, 1997. He was charged with possession for sale of cocaine base and possession for sale of a controlled substance. Suares pled guilty on October 23, 1997 to both counts and was sentenced to four years in prison. At the time of his arrest, he was on probation from a previous possession conviction.

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 23, 1999, Perez told investigators that he and Durden had falsely arrested Suares and lied in their report by saying that they observed him drop several bindles of cocaine. Perez said he and Durden were patrolling the area around Lake and Eleventh streets and they saw Suares. According to Perez, Durden recognized Suares as someone whom he had nearly arrested a few days earlier during an undercover drug buy, but that Suares had run away before the arrest was made.

“So, on this particular occasion, Durden said, ‘Let's take him.’ And we went. You know, just booking him for whatever narcotics we got on him,” Perez said. But Suares had no drugs on him, so the officers planted the cocaine. In his interview, Perez didn’t say which officer had the cocaine before it was planted on Suares.

The District Attorney for Los Angeles County filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Suares’s behalf on January 24, 2000. The writ was granted the next day. The conviction was vacated and Suares’s charges were 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. Almost all, including a claim by Suares, were settled. Suares received $175,000. 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:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1997
Sentence:4 years
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No