LOS ANGELES -- Guilty verdicts against three officers in the city's largest police corruption scandal could set the stage for further prosecutions.
"Although these cases are difficult to prosecute, this demonstrates that we should not ignore them," Police Chief Bernard Parks told reporters Wednesday after the officers were convicted of conspiracy and other crimes. "Our investigations have not concluded."
It was the first trial resulting from the scandal in which officers from an elite gang-fighting unit of the Police Department's Rampart station are accused of framing innocent people and in some cases beating, robbing and shooting them.
Sgts. Brian Liddy, 39, and Edward Ortiz, 44, and Officer Michael Buchanan, 30, were found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice and filing false police reports. Officer Paul Harper, 33, was acquitted of all charges.
All four still face internal police hearings on those and other charges, Parks said. Eighty cases have been brought within the department as a result of the corruption probe centered in the city's Rampart neighborhood. Many remain to be heard.
"There are cases we're very interested in," Parks said of prospects for criminal action, singling out an attempted murder charge against Officer Nino Durden.
Durden, who is awaiting trial, is accused of shooting and paralyzing a handcuffed suspect. He was a former partner of Rafael Perez, the disgraced ex-officer whose allegations started the scandal last fall.
Perez turned informant in exchange for leniency after he was caught stealing $1 million worth of cocaine from a police evidence room.
He was expected to be the top prosecution witness until he demanded immunity from murder allegations -- now recanted -- made by an ex-lover. The jury was already deliberating when Sonya Flores said she made up the story about bodies buried in Tijuana, Mexico, because Perez had spurned her.
Without Perez, prosecutors were forced to rely on gang members with credibility problems and police officers who said they knew little if anything about the charges.
"The first case was a test case and the prosecution passed the test. But there's no guarantee they will pass the test in the future," said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School.
City officials have estimated it may cost as much as $125 million to settle lawsuits resulting from the scandal, which has already resulted in the dismissal of about 100 criminal cases tainted by police testimony. Dozens of officers have quit or been fired or suspended.
Lawyers for the convicted officers said they would move for a new trial. They claimed their clients were prejudged as guilty before the trial began.
"I was defending an officer that had already been found guilty in the minds of, not only these jurors, but the public," said Oritz's lawyer, Barry Levin.
Ortiz, 44, said he was baffled by the verdicts.
"I still believe to this day that we are innocent and that we did our job to keep the citizens of L.A., keep the streets safe from all the gangs and all the crime that's going on out there," he said.
The Superior Court jurors, who deliberated for 18 hours after a monthlong trial, said they were not influenced by the publicity swirling around the case.
"There's good cops and there's bad cops," jury foreman Victor Flores said. "A lot of us on the jury felt that they just didn't happen to cover themselves enough and they never thought it would come back to haunt them."
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