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Daniel Tapia

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

Tapia, then 16 years old, was arrested on May 18, 1998, and charged with two counts of possession of cocaine for sale and one count of disobeying a court order. While in custody, he signed a statement that said he had been selling cocaine on the night he was arrested. Tapia pled guilty to the charges on June 8, 1998, and was placed on probation through a program for young offenders. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest in December 1999, after he failed to appear for a court hearing.

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.

In an interview on October 11, 1999, Perez said that Tapia had been falsely arrested.

Perez said he was present during the arrest, and that Tapia and two other young men had run into a house in the Westlake neighborhood to avoid arrest by Officer Ethan Cohan. The woman at the house had several previous felony convictions and was looking at a life sentence if she was convicted of another crime.

Perez said Cohan lied to the woman and told her that cocaine had been found inside her house and that someone – either her or one of the young men – needed to say it was theirs. Perez said the woman became angry, and she told Tapia and the others that her husband – who was in prison – would kill them if she ended up with another conviction.

Perez said: “She started yelling at them saying, ‘Well, one of you young homeboys are gonna have to take – you know, take this dope.’ And, finally, the young – the youngest one, Little Gangster [Tapia], said, ‘All right. All right. I'll take credit for it.’ He was gonna be for it, you know. And, so, Cohan actually had him say it. Say it out loud. Say that the dope is yours. ‘Yeah, all right. The dope is mine.’ When, in actuality, it's not.”

In his interview, Perez said he didn’t know where Cohan got the cocaine that was later said to belong to Tapia, just that he had it.

On January 31, 2000, the District Attorney for Los Angeles County filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on Tapia’s behalf, stating that prosecutors no longer had confidence in the evidence. The writ was granted that day. Tapia’s conviction was vacated, the charges were dismissed, and the bench warrant was canceled.

Separate from his theft convictions, Perez later pled guilty to federal civil rights and firearms violations resulting from a Rampart-related shooting. Cohan pled guilty to obstruction of justice and filing a false report in the beating of a gang member.

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 Tapia, were settled. Tapia received $550,000. 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: 12/14/2021
Last Updated: 2/2/2022
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Other
Reported Crime Date:1998
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No