Police Corruption Is Revealed in Los Angeles’s Rampart Division Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Los Angeles Police Department was rocked by scandal when the investigation into the road-rage murder of black police officer Kevin Gaines by white officer Frank Lyga revealed a web of corrupt officers in an antigang unit called CRASH, many of whom were affiliated with a notorious street gang. The name of the LAPD division where the officers had worked, Rampart, is now synonymous with police corruption.

Summary of Event

According to witness testimony, at approximately 4:00 p.m. on March 18, 1997, off-duty Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer Kevin Gaines pulled his green sport utility vehicle (SUV) next to a Buick at a stop light. Behind the wheel of the Buick was off-duty LAPD officer Frank Lyga, who was dressed casually in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, his long black hair pulled back in a pony tail. Gaines looked at Lyga in a threatening way; Lyga asked if Gaines needed assistance. Lyga sped away when the light turned green. Gaines sped after him and pulled out his handgun. [kw]Police Corruption Is Revealed in Los Angeles’s Rampart Division (May, 1998) Rampart scandal Los Angeles;police corruption Police corruption;Los Angeles Gaines, Kevin Lyga, Frank Mack, David Anthony Rampart scandal Los Angeles;police corruption Police corruption;Los Angeles Gaines, Kevin Lyga, Frank Mack, David Anthony [g]United States;May, 1998: Police Corruption Is Revealed in Los Angeles’s Rampart Division[02900] [c]Corruption;May, 1998: Police Corruption Is Revealed in Los Angeles’s Rampart Division[02900] [c]Racism;May, 1998: Police Corruption Is Revealed in Los Angeles’s Rampart Division[02900] [c]Murder and suicide;May, 1998: Police Corruption Is Revealed in Los Angeles’s Rampart Division[02900] [c]Law and the courts;May, 1998: Police Corruption Is Revealed in Los Angeles’s Rampart Division[02900] [c]Government;May, 1998: Police Corruption Is Revealed in Los Angeles’s Rampart Division[02900] [c]Violence;May, 1998: Police Corruption Is Revealed in Los Angeles’s Rampart Division[02900] Perez, Rafael Antonio Parks, Bernard Knight, Suge

Former LAPD officer Rafael Perez in court in 2001. Perez, a key informant in the Rampart corruption scandal, was released from prison after serving nearly three years of a five-year sentence for stealing cocaine from the Rampart division’s evidence room in 1998.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Pulling up to a stop light, Gaines threatened Lyga once again. Witnesses reported seeing Gaines extend his arm toward the window of his vehicle, as if he was about to brandish a gun. Fearing for his life, Lyga fired two shots into the SUV and mortally wounded Gaines. A gunshot entered Gaines’s armpit, but he managed to make a U-turn and pull into a convenience store parking lot. Lyga followed moments later.

Two California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers had been on a coffee break behind the store when they heard the gunshots. They drove their patrol cars around the building and saw Lyga pointing his handgun at Gaines, who was slumped forward in the front seat of his SUV. The officers ordered Lyga to drop his weapon. He shouted back that he was a police officer and showed his badge. Lyga revealed that he was an undercover narcotics officer who was just returning home from duty when the road-rage incident began.

Gaines died at the scene. By the time detectives from the LAPD’s robbery-homicide division arrived, Gaines’s identity was established. The shooting of a black police officer by a white police officer became a media sensation and brought cries of racism from the residents of Los Angeles, a metropolis that was recovering from the Rodney King beating and uprising of 1992. The shooting also caused a deep divide between black and white officers of the Rampart division, where Gaines was stationed.

Detective Russell Poole was assigned to the case. In the days following the shooting, he learned that two dozen off-duty black police officers canvassed the neighborhood around the shooting to look for witnesses to counter Lyga’s testimony. Lyga’s version of events, however, was supported by the evidence. In addition, witness statements corroborated Lyga’s account. The LAPD discovered that Gaines had been involved in similar road-rage incidents prior to his fatal encounter with Lyga. It was also revealed that he was associated with the record label Death Row Records Death Row Records and its owner, convicted felon Suge Knight. Knight was a controversial figure, claiming ties to a Los Angeles street gang, the Bloods, and hiring off-duty police officers, including Gaines, for his security detail. Also, at the time of his death, Gaines had been living with Knight’s estranged wife.

By the spring of 1998, LAPD leadership began to question these associations with Death Row Records and Knight. To investigate, it established the Rampart Corruption Task Force in May. The task force confirmed that several Rampart officers, including Gaines, David Mack, and Rafael Perez, were on the payroll of Death Row Records. All three, among others, were soon implicated in a wide range of crimes. (In November, 1997, Mack had participated in one of the largest bank robberies in Los Angeles history. He was convicted and sentenced to fourteen years in prison.) With the creation of the task force, the scandal came to light.

Rampart officer Perez, who would turn out to be the major figure uncovering the widespread CRASH unit corruption, was arrested on August 25 for stealing six pounds of cocaine a few months earlier from the Rampart division property room. The cocaine had been booked into evidence following an arrest made by Lyga. In September, 1999, Perez, who admitted that he stole the cocaine in retaliation for Gaines’s shooting, agreed to cooperate with investigators in exchange for leniency and provided extensive details into the misdeeds of the elite Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums unit, or CRASH.

The goal of the antigang CRASH unit was to arrest as many gang members as possible, to do so by any means necessary, and to gain convictions. Its corruption included unprovoked shootings by officers on unarmed civilians, planting evidence, false arrests, beatings, and false testimony. Perez claimed that 90 percent of CRASH officers framed innocent people and Perjury perjured themselves on the witness stand to gain convictions. He also claimed that his superiors, including at least one police lieutenant at Rampart, actively supported and even encouraged the misconduct.

The investigation by the task force revealed widespread corruption within the rank and file of the Rampart division. More than seventy officers from CRASH were implicated in the scandal, making Rampart one of the most widespread cases of police misconduct in American history.

Impact

The Rampart scandal forced the city of Los Angeles to answer to more than 140 lawsuits against the LAPD and the city itself. One case involved an unarmed gang member named Javier Ovando who had been shot by Rampart division officers Nino Durden and Perez and then framed for a crime he did not commit. Ovando, who had been paralyzed by the shooting, was awarded the largest Rampart-related judgment against the LAPD: more than fifteen million dollars. Also, more than one hundred cases in which persons were convicted with evidence obtained illegally by implicated Rampart officers or because of the testimony of these same officers were overturned by the courts.

Bernard Parks, who was in charge of the department’s Internal Affairs division during the years of misconduct and corruption at Rampart, was alleged to have obstructed justice in the investigation. Many claimed that Parks, who would become chief of police in August, 1997, had protected Gaines and other officers by suppressing reports and instructing investigators not to pursue their inquiries. In September, 1999, Parks formed a board of inquiry to look into the corruption. The board focused not only on corrupt officers but also the failures of management in handling the crisis. In March, 2000, Parks disbanded the CRASH unit, just days after the board released its final report.

On September, 19, 2000, the Los Angeles City Council voted 10-2 to accept a federal consent decree allowing the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee and monitor recommended reforms within the LAPD for a five-year period. On September 26, Detective Poole filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and Parks. Poole claimed in his suit that Parks shut down his efforts to fully investigate the corruption within the department and suppressed critical information. Parks was not rehired by Los Angeles mayor James Hahn. As a result, Hahn lost support with the African American community in Los Angeles.

In 2005, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed against several former LAPD officers for the March 9, 1997, murder of rap-music star Christopher Wallace, also known as Notorious B.I.G. Among the many acts of criminal misconduct uncovered by Detective Poole was a link between Wallace’s murder and corrupt Rampart officers, most notably Perez and Mack. Poole learned that Perez and Mack arranged for the hit on Wallace at Knight’s order. Furthermore, Poole found links between Death Row Records, CRASH-unit officers on Death Row Records’ payroll, and the killing of another rap star—Tupac Shakur—six months prior to Wallace’s murder. Rampart scandal Los Angeles;police corruption Police corruption;Los Angeles Gaines, Kevin Lyga, Frank Mack, David Anthony

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boyer, Peter J. “Bad Cops.” The New Yorker, May 21, 2001. A thorough report on the Rampart scandal and its aftermath. This article was used as the basis for a special Public Broadcasting Service Frontline news feature at pbs.org/frontline.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Juarez, Juan Antonio. Brotherhood of Corruption: A Cop Breaks the Silence on Police Abuse, Brutality and Racial Profiling. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2004. Written by a former Chicago police officer, this work provides an insider’s view into the behind-the-scenes actions of some police officers and how a “wall of silence” can perpetuate problems and hide police corruption and misconduct.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Katz, Charles M. The Police in America: An Introduction. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005. General textbook on police work that covers the history of American police forces, their organization and functions, and issues such as corruption.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Scott, Cathy. The Murder of Biggie Smalls. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Examines the Christopher Wallace killing and covers the corruption at LAPD’s Rampart station.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sullivan, Randall. Labyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implication of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002. A fascinating account of the Rampart scandal, tying the murders of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace with Suge Knight and the Rampart CRASH division of the LAPD.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “The Unsolved Mystery of the Notorious B.I.G.” Rolling Stone, December 4, 2005. A follow-up to his 2002 book Labryinth, Sullivan examines the aftermath of an FBI investigation into the Rampart scandal and cover-up.

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