LAPD OFFICER SUSPENDED AFTER STING
  Arrest in Rampart occurs as a federal judge is about to rule on lifting or continuing a consent decree based on scandals in that police division

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A veteran Rampart Division police officer was relieved of duty Friday after being accused of lying about a drug arrest. His suspension comes days before a judge is to decide whether to lift federal oversight of the department imposed because of a corruption scandal at the station six years ago.

Los Angeles Police Department Chief William J. Bratton suspended the officer after a six-month sting operation by internal affairs investigators. As part of the sting, officials set up a situation late Tuesday in which Officer Edward B. Zamora, 44, arrested an undercover detective, according to two sources.

Zamora said in his police report that the undercover detective dropped narcotics during the arrest, sources said, but surveillance officers knew that he hadn't.

The LAPD has presented its case against Zamora to prosecutors, who said they also are reviewing dozens of arrests Zamora made during his 16-year career. Zamora was accused in a civil lawsuit six years ago of planting drugs during a 1995 arrest, but an appeals court threw out the case.

The incident occurred during a sensitive moment for the LAPD: A federal judge is expected to rule as early as Monday on whether a consent decree the department entered into in the wake of the Rampart police corruption scandal should be lifted or extended.

Bratton wants U.S. District Judge Gary Feess to lift most of the federal oversight, saying the department has completed the vast majority of the reforms required by the U.S. Justice Department. But the monitor assigned to oversee the decree -- as well as some community activists -- believe the LAPD has further to go and that the full consent decree should be extended.

Bratton on Friday cited Zamora's suspension as a sign of how far the department has come.

The Ethics Enforcement Section, which carried out the sting, was created in 2001 as part of the reforms to help ferret out corruption. Detectives with the unit began investigating Zamora after they tracked a potentially problematic pattern of arrests and complaints.

"It is a reflection of how we are a different department," Bratton said. "This goes to the heart and soul of why the consent decree was created in the first place."

But others said Friday the case is not that clear cut. Although it shows the LAPD is monitoring the behavior of its officers, they said the case also suggests problems may still exist at the Rampart station.

"It cuts both ways," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at Loyola Law School. "It illustrates a department cleaning its own house, but it also shows a department cleaning house because of the consent decree. But it does show it is no longer business as usual."

The Rampart scandal erupted in the mid-1990s. Officer Rafael Perez, after being caught stealing narcotics, told authorities that he and other officers had routinely falsified evidence, framed suspects and covered up unjustified shootings.

After an investigation, the U.S. Justice Department accused the city and the LAPD of civil rights violations. The city agreed to a five-year consent decree under which the LAPD would make a series of reforms with scrutiny from a federal judge and a court-appointed monitor.

Under the 93-page consent decree, the LAPD more rigorously trains and supervises officers, more closely monitors confidential informants and more thoroughly probes use-of-force incidents than in the past. As of last month, it was in substantial compliance with 149 of the 191 consent decree mandates.

The single largest shortcoming, according to the federal monitor, is a computer system designed to track vast amounts of officer performance data, including the number of times officers fire their weapons and the number of citizen complaints they incur. That system took years to create and has not been running for two years as required by the decree.

Zamora could not be reached for comment Friday. Bratton said Zamora's partner was assigned to home duty, but he did not name the partner or provide details.

The chief said he sees the case as an isolated incident that should not reflect on the rest of the Rampart station.

"There will always be a small percentage of our officers who don't get it," he said. "If they don't get it, we'll get them."

Although Bratton is pushing for lifting most of the decree, he acknowledged Friday that such internal stings are now part of LAPD life.

In 2004, there were 127 investigations. Of them, 18 led to administrative discipline cases and six were referred to the district attorney for possible criminal prosecution. Last year, there were 204 investigations, with 15 administrative discipline actions and one criminal referral.

One officer to face criminal charges based on a sting worked in Rampart. Authorities accused the officer in 2004 of charging a Korean woman $500 to file a police report.
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  Filed Under: Drugs/Alcohol/Dealing/testing, Lying/FRAUD, mis-conduct POLICE/Sheriff/FED
 
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