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Rene Vriones

Summary of Rampart Scandal
Rene Vriones 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.

Officer Rafael Perez arrested Vriones, who had just turned 18 years old, on June 7, 1996. Vriones was charged with possession of cocaine, and four days later entered a diversion program. Three months later, he was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine base for sale. His diversion was terminated, and on September 19, 1996, he pled guilty to both charges and was placed on probation for three years.

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 said in an interview on November 5, 1999, that he planted drugs on Vriones. He said that he and his partner had stopped to speak with Vriones and that Perez noticed he had trouble talking. That led Perez to believe that Vriones had something in his mouth.

Perez said: “He had some rocks. He did have some rocks in his mouth. When we notice it, I grab him and tell him to spit it out. I started to try to choke him out to get it out. He swallows them all. He – he chews it. Or he starts chewing on them and swallowing them. He's not spitting them out.

In fact, we go to the ground. He lays on the ground, and I'm on top of him. And I'm telling him, ‘Listen. Spit them out and I'll give you a break. If you don't spit them out, you're going to jail.’ He doesn't spit them out.

At that point, I said, ‘Fine. Go ahead and eat the rocks. No problem.’ We hook him up. And I place him in the car. And I tell [Officer Raquel] Duarte, ‘We're gonna just book him 11350 [possession of cocaine].’ And she goes – she tells me, ‘How are we gonna book him 11350 when we don't got any dope?’ And I said, ‘Well, we'll handle it. Don't worry about it.’”

Perez said that at the precinct, he found 10 small wafers of cocaine and booked that into evidence against Vriones.

The District Attorney for Los Angeles County filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Vriones on April 14, 2000. It was granted on April 20. The conviction was vacated, and the charge was dismissed.

Separate from his theft convictions, Perez later pled guilty to federal civil rights and firearms violations resulting from a Rampart-related 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 were settled. It’s not clear whether Vriones ever filed a lawsuit. There is no public final accounting of the settlement costs, 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: 6/14/2021
Last Updated: 6/14/2021
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No