Newsweek, February 15, 2000 For nearly a decade, the Los Angeles Police Department has been repeatedly shaken by scandal and charges of police corruption. Today, as the LAPD faces new allegations of widespread police misconduct-more than 70 officers are reportedly under investigation and at least twenty have already been suspended, relieved of duty or firedthe man whose trial intensified public scrutiny of the department says he has been proven right.
"I feel vindicated," O.J. Simpson told Newsweek in an exclusive interview on Monday night. "It is now loud and clear that these guys are capable of planting evidence and framing people. This is not something new. It's been going on for a long time. If a cop hadn't gotten his hand caught in the cookie jar, they'd still be doing it."
The latest scandal came to light last fall, when Rafael Perez, an officer in the elite anti-gang unit known as "CRASH" (for Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) began to cooperate with authorities in exchange for a lighter sentence on a charge of stealing cocaine from a police property room. CRASH officers, Perez told investigators, routinely planted drugs, falsely arrested citizens and lied under oath. Perez also maintained that the officers shot people without justification and then concocted elaborate cover-ups. (Or maybe not so elaborate. In a published report today, Perez alleges officers once doused a wall with ketchup, in order to make it look like blood.) CRASH officers reportedly celebrated their misdeeds with drinking parties and awards ceremonies in which congratulatory plaques were handed out.
So far, more than thirty criminal convictions have been overturned as a result of the scandal. LAPD Chief Bernard Parks has identified ninety nine people he believes were framed by the LAPD in 57 cases. District Attorney Gil Garcetti admits that the number of criminal cases tainted by bad officers could be in the thousands, and city officials are already bracing for potential civil judgments in excess of $125 million. Says Simpson, "I went through a trial of my peers, and was found not guilty. How many people out there were found guilty, or were forced to accept a plea bargain, simply because they didn't have the money to check out what the police are doing? God knows what would have happened to me if I had had the public defender."
Simpson blames the media and legal pundits for their lack of vigilance in uncovering police abuses. "The pundits were incredulous in my case when we said there was a 'Code of Silence,' in the LAPD," Simpson says. "Time and time again, the pundits said, 'This could never happen. Why would a cop do something like plant evidence and then lie under oath? That could send him to jail for life.' My lawyers were criticized for even suggesting such a thing. Now, in Los Angeles we know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of times when that is exactly what happened."
Simpson says he is thrilled with a February 15th L.A. Times editorial about the Rampart scandal. Entitled "O.J. Jury Knew The Score," the editorial begins: "Now we understand why O.J. was acquitted...Why a jury of his racial peers...would take his word over the police and blithely accept that damning evidence of guilt could have been planted by the cops."
Such sentiments lead Simpson to believe that public opinion would have been different if his murder trial were held today. "I am convinced that if we were trying my case now, we wouldn't have had nearly the same reaction," he says. "People would take a closer look at the glaring inconsistencies in the evidence. Things like the miraculous appearance of blood on the sock and on the fence."
As he awaits an appeal on the civil judgment against him, the L.A. police scandal is not the only one Simpson is tuned into. He says he has followed New York's Amadou Diallo case closely, for example. It turns out the man whose trial riveted the nation has become an avid watcher of live trial coverage himself.