Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Michael Williams

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

Williams, who was 39 years old, was arrested on March 3, 1996, and charged with possession of a firearm by a felon. Officer Thomas O’Grady wrote in his arrest report that a confidential informant had told him that a man and a woman were selling drugs in MacArthur Park, and that O’Grady was able to see Williams drop a weapon just as he and Officer Rafael Perez approached.

O’Grady testified to that series of events at a preliminary hearing and later at Williams’s trial in Los Angeles Superior Court. A jury convicted Williams on May 5, 1996, and he was sentenced under California’s “three strikes” sentencing guidelines to 25 years to life in prison. Two months later, on July 12, 1996, Williams was convicted and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison on an unrelated murder 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.

In an interview with investigators on October 15, 1999, Perez said that O’Grady hadn’t seen Williams in possession of the gun. “We had knowledge that Defendant had a gun. However, when we detained them, we didn't find nothing,” Perez said. “After Mr. Williams was patted, there was no gun recovered. However, O'Grady began looking around in the vicinity where we were. And he eventually found a gun. And, of course, what happened was he wrote that he actually saw him discarding the gun. When, in actuality, we didn't. They probably saw us coming through the park, got rid of the gun, or Mr. Williams got rid of the gun. And we just happened to find it where he dropped it.”

Perez said that he rarely worked with O’Grady, and that this case involved his area, and his confidential informant. “He wrote the report, and I just backed him on it,” Perez said.

On January 31, 2000, the District Attorney for Los Angeles County filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Williams. It was granted the next day, and the weapons conviction was vacated and the charge dismissed. Williams remained in prison on the murder conviction.

O’Grady was never charged or disciplined for this arrest, and Perez told investigators that O’Grady was not considered to be “in the loop” of the corrupt officers he trusted. 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, including one by Williams, 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.

– Ken Otterbourg

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 9/20/2021
Last Updated: 9/20/2021
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Sentence:25 to life
Age at the date of reported crime:39
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No