Oct. 11--There's no question what the police partners said on the stand, and what one wrote in a report, was wrong.
LAPD Officers Craig Allen and Phil Walters hadn't seen a woman blow through two stop signs, and they hadn't pulled her over. Another officer had done that, then called Allen and Walters to the scene to give her a sobriety test.
Yet Allen wrote in his arrest report and both men testified in separate hearings they had personally witnessed Dana Tarcatu run the stop signs.
Prosecutors say that was a crime. Their defense attorneys say it was a mistake.
After a preliminary hearing Wednesday, a judge ordered Walters, 57, and Allen, 39, to stand trial on perjury and false report charges. Allen has been fired from the LAPD, and Walters is suspended.
Their lawyers argued they made simple mistakes, while convicting someone of perjury, a felony, requires showing an intent to lie.
"There's no showing of any motive," said Walters' lawyer, Joel Isaacson. "What would the intent be?"
Deputy District Attorney Rosa Alarcon said their false testimony showed "the specific intent to fabricate," but she did not offer a motive.
Judge Henry Hall said the evidence was "more than ample" to send the case to trial. The two will be arraigned Oct. 24, and no trial date has been set.
What sets this case apart from other cases in which officers have been accused of lying is how minor the incident was: not a murder case
or a major drug bust, but a drunken driving charge. Why, Isaacson wondered in an interview, would an officer knowingly lie and risk throwing away a 22-year career over a routine drunken driving case?
It all started with one officer doing a favor for a couple of colleagues.
Cecilio Flores, an LAPD motorcycle officer, already had two arrests the night of Sept. 3, 2010, when he saw a woman run stop signs on Avenue 52 north of downtown L.A. just after midnight the next morning. He said she appeared drunk.
Flores testified he knew Allen and Walters, other motorcycle officers working the same drunken-driving enforcement detail, didn't have any arrests yet. He called them in so they could have the arrest on their stats, a move Flores said officers refer to as a "gimme."
The judge asked why it mattered that the other two officers didn't have any arrests.
"No one likes to come in last, sir," Flores replied.
Hall said officers must be competitive, and Flores said, "More like bragging rights than competitive."
Allen wrote in the report that he had seen a woman running stop signs. And he testified in a court hearing months later that he had pulled Tarcatu over.
Despite being shown a document showing another officer had made the stop, Allen said repeatedly, "I pulled her over."
Only when an audio tape of police radio transmissions showing otherwise was played in court did he say, "My memory was off."
Allen's lawyer, Bill Seki, did not explain how his memory could have failed in the few hours between the 12:20 a.m. traffic stop and the time he turned in the report to a sergeant for approval. It was signed at 5:55 a.m.
Because of the inconsistent testimony, the city attorney dropped the drunken-driving case against Tarcatu.
A defense witness, Sgt. Japhet Hom, said he sent Walters home and left Allen alone to write the report because of an unwritten department rule to keep overtime to a minimum. Isaacson argued his client, Walters, can't be held responsible for what was written after he was sent home.
But Walters also testified during a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing that he saw Tarcatu run the stop signs. Isaacson said he was relying on the report of his partner, Allen, and assumed it was correct.
Officers frequently are called to testify months after incidents they might not remember clearly or at all, but they're expected to remember so defendants can be convicted, Isaacson said. He said officers rely on reports to be correct.
In the DMV hearing, Walters first said he had no memory of the stop months before, but then read the report and said he did remember seeing the traffic violations with his own eyes.
"If that was the case, why couldn't he have just said, 'Gee, I don't remember?' " the judge asked Wednesday.
"Well, that's the thing," Isaacson said. "He thought he did remember. He was wrong. He made a mistake -- much, much different than intentionally lying."
Hom testified it's very common for officers to hand off arrests as Flores did that night and for the new officers to write the reports.
The judge asked him whether it was also common for one officer to write that he saw what another actually saw.
"No, that would not be common," Hom said.
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