The Real Rampart Story

A Boiling Cauldron of Lies, Deception and Distortion
or Utter Nonsense

A Exclusive

by Allen R. Kates, MFAW, BCECR

Hollywood has made a movie about one of the worst police scandals in U.S. history, a movie about bad cops doing bad things in the 1990s. Well, maybe it's about the Rampart scandal. According to many moviegoers, they don't think the Rampart scandal, although used as a "backdrop," has much to do with what goes on in the movie.

Perhaps it's just as well. After all, only a few cops in Los Angeles's Rampart Division were convicted of corruption way back then, and today Rampart cops are known as honest and tough.

After a February opening, the reviews are mixed. Some people hate the movie, saying it makes no sense, has no point, and has nothing to do with the Rampart scandal. Others say it is a spectacular movie with some of the best acting they've ever seen.

I wonder, however, Did this movie have to be made?

Actor Woody Harrelson's performance is portrayed as "ferocious." Harrelson is a formidable actor and movie critics are praising him to the Hollywood Hills. Based on his performance and several disconnected scenes, some critics are calling it an "art" film. I'm not sure that's a good thing. That moniker may be a box office kiss of death. I mean, how many shoot-'um-ups are called art films?

If you haven't seen the movie yet, below is an action-filled trailer featuring Harrelson that should whet your appetite...

Rampart Movie Trailer
   Runs: 2:16

Spoiler Alert! The plot

The following plot description comes from the film producer's marketing machine, so it can't give away too much. But if you wish to remain oblivious until you see the movie, then don't read the next few paragraphs.

Hardened, Reckless Cop

Harrelson plays Officer Dave Brown, a "hardened, reckless" cop who roves the streets in his black-and-white dispensing his form of warped justice and punishing the guilty and the innocent at will.

Sleeps With Two Sisters

His personal life is a mess. Of course it is--that's what's known as the "B" story, but it's a good one. Apparently, he has bedded two sisters, every man's wet dream, or so I am told. He has fathered children with them, and "casually" lives with both of them. Again, every man's vision of happiness, I guess.

To the male animal at his worst, "casual" means that he has sex with two beautiful women, sneaks out before the dishes are washed, leaves the toilet seat up and never takes out the trash.

His Needs Are All That Matter

It means that he ignores the children's needs and leaves everything up to the women whose only wish is to look sexy for him when he comes home, if he comes home. His needs are all that matter and he takes no responsibility for his actions. Perhaps by the end of the movie he will become enlightened and a good father and husband. He may move his plural family to Utah where he would be more accepted, but I rather doubt that is in the plot line.

Killed Rapist, Maybe

His daughter calls him "Date Rape" because he "may have killed a rapist and gotten away with it." I'm surmising that she was the one who was date-raped. Otherwise, why call him that?

Rampart Scandal, Hollywood Version

Now let's have a look at the "A" story, the Rampart Scandal, as portrayed by Hollywood. (I'll describe the real-life "A" story in a moment.) According to the movie notes, when Rampart Division gets mired in the corruption scandal, Officer Brown becomes an easy scapegoat for murdering his daughter's rapist (maybe he did, maybe he didn't), as corrupt cops try to shift the blame to innocent ones, or, in this case, a not-so-innocent one.

Movie Worth Seeing

The movie is full of action, and has great acting, excellent characters and touching scenes. Even though the Rampart movie may be a film for real men with unrealistic dreams and no understanding of women (which is nearly 100% of us poor slobs), we think it is worth seeing.

Cops who lived through the Rampart scandal and have seen the movie say it is authentic, the real deal, and captures the essence of the events and the atmosphere. Regular moviegoers are not convinced and think the Rampart scandal could be dropped without missing anything.

Top Actors in Cast

The script is co-written by James Ellroy, a seasoned crime fiction writer who wrote several police operas such as The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential. Along with Harrleson's outstanding performance are performances by top actors Anne Heche, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube and Steve Buscemi.

top of column, right-

The Real Rampart Story

Okay, so the movie has a great group of actors whose performances keep you riveted to your seat. But does the movie have any resemblance to what actually happened in the Rampart Division in the 1990s? Does it matter--since it conveys the flavor, attitudes and violence of what happened if not the actual facts?

The Rampart Scandal was not a Hollywood movie. There was nothing sexy about it. It was as real as real gets. Corruption, payoffs, drugs, guns, beatings, murder--that's not entertaining in the real world. That's sleaze, sordidness, heartbreak and tears. It's the kind of real life story that hollows out the hearts of its victims, those that lived, and freezes their souls.

Real Story Has Few Real Facts

A lot of information is available about the real Rampart Scandal in news stories, most of it conflicting. For an excellent perspective, please watch the Real Rampart Story in a two-part documentary near the end of this article.

But before you watch interviews with people who were there at the time, I'm going to boil down the facts for you. What may surprise you is that there are not too many facts, only a lot of lies, hearsay, cover-ups, slander, threats and fear.

Where, What Is Rampart?

Rampart Division of the LAPD covers an area of nearly eight square miles and serves 375,000 people west and northwest of downtown Los Angeles, including Echo Park, Pico-Union and Westlake. Its name is derived from Rampart Boulevard, one of the main streets in its patrol area. The division employs about 350 police officers and is L.A.'s most densely populated community.

Investigation of CRASH Anti-Gang Unit

In May 2001, an investigation into police misconduct at the LAPD's Rampart Division in the late 1990s roped in more than 70 police officers--70 supposedly dirty cops. These officers were part of the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums anti-gang unit, better known as CRASH.

At the time, this was the most widespread case of documented police corruption including unprovoked shootings and beatings, planting of evidence, framing of suspects, stealing and dealing drugs, bank robbery, perjury and evidence cover-up.

Were The Charges True?

The allegations were dramatic and discouraging, to say the least. If they were true.

The charges were alleged by a confessed police crook named Rafael (Ray) Perez. Perez was brought up on charges for stealing cocaine from evidence storage. To cut a deal, Perez offered up dozens of cops and gave his word that they were unrepentant lawbreakers.

One problem. Perez failed every question on five lie detector tests. The man was a storyteller and fabricator. He should have written novels instead of becoming a cop.

Few Criminal Charges

After years of soul-destroying investigation, teeth-gnawing, shouting and white-knuckles, of the 70, criminal charges were brought against only nine officers. Three were convicted at trial, and even their convictions were overturned on appeal. Those same three officers were later awarded $5 million each after a civil trial. The jury concluded that they had been arrested and charged despite no probable cause.

Other Charges

Besides those who were charged with criminal offenses, administrative charges were brought against 93 officers. Seven were fired or voluntarily resigned. Twenty-four were reprimanded or suspended. Most were cleared of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the Chief of Police shut down all of the gang units citywide, no matter how much good they were doing.

In the end, this wide- sweeping corruption probe eventually ended up focusing on two men, two only.

           top of column, right-

They were Rafael Perez and his partner, but Perez was the kingpin, the godfather, the big enchilada.

Police Union Not Happy

In response to the Hollywoodized Rampart movie, the Los Angeles Police Protective League expresses dismay. The union representing all Los Angeles police officers feels that the movie and its title unfairly smear the entire department as corrupt when only two officers eventually ended up being convicted of corruption. Of course, that doesn't mean no other officers were involved. It only means there wasn't enough evidence to convict them of anything.

The union representatives feel that a more appropriate title for the movie would be, "The Rafael Perez Scandal."

Screenwriter Questions Validity of the Scandal

Even screenwriter Ellroy says that the so-called Rampart Scandal was "a stick of dynamite with a wet fuse."

He says that,

"Rampart is another of these misperceived criminal conspiracies. It's really the story of a handful of rogue, criminal cops who ratted out a wider number of untainted cops to save their own skins. And the entire event blew out of proportion into a media event that most people took to represent large-scale endemic corruption in the LAPD. In reality, it wasn't that."

--Dennis Romero, 4/21/10

So Why Is There A Movie?

If the screenwriter doesn't believe in the scandal, then why did he write the screenplay? Why is there a movie?

Perhaps because everybody likes a story about a dirty cop who finds salvation, particularly in the arms of two gorgeous women. And... Perez himself provides some good dialogue and insight, even if his thoughts are directed by self-interest and invention. I mean, with lines like, "We intimidate those who intimidate," a screenwriter can't go wrong. You have to give Perez high marks for creativity.

Plaques, Tattoos, Patches

His description of how the CRASH unit operated is a thing of beauty if you are a screenwriter. For instance, Perez claims that the CRASH unit had its own system of rewards and recognition. They gave out plaques and had tattoos and patches they wore on bomber jackets. The tattoo and patch portrayed a cowboy hat with a skull and aces and eights, the dead man's hand.

When officers shot somebody, they received the plaque depicting aces and eights, and it included shell casings representing the number of times the officer hit the person at whom he was shooting.

This was one of the few things Perez didn't lie about, and it's graphic fodder for any sane screenwriter not on a drunken bender.

Us Against Them

In court, Perez said:"The us-against-them ethos of the overzealous cop began to consume me. And the ends justified the means."

I believe that Perez was consumed by his warped sense of how he saw the world. In researching PTSD, I interviewed many officers who talked about the "us against them" mentality and how the end sometimes justifies the means, even when it doesn't.

Job An Intoxicant

Perez said, "We vaguely sensed we were doing the wrong things for the right reasons. Time and again, I stepped over that line. Once crossed, I hurdled over it again and again, landing with both feet sometimes on innocent persons. My job became an intoxicant that I lusted after."

--In The Eye of the Storm

Perez Sentenced

Perez was sentenced to five years in the Graybar Hotel and was out on parole in three. Throughout the entire investigation, he refused to talk about a bank robbery he may have been involved in. The $722,000 in loot was never recovered.

To be clear, I'm not saying that the scandal did not go beyond Perez and his partner. There just wasn't enough proof that it did.

below, after the videos-

                                                           The Real Rampart Story
                                                                The Documentary
                                                                        (Part 1)
                                                                   Runs: 15 Mins

                                                          The Real Rampart Story
                                                                The Documentary
                                                                        (Part 2)
                                                                   Runs: 15 Mins

Now that you've seen the real Rampart story in the videos above, which movie would you like to see? A documentary that portrays the real story of violence, sex and male fantasies or the fictional one of violence, sex and male fantasies?

I don't want to appear sexist, so on this question I shall keep my big mouth shut. My girlfriend is going to read this article.

However, to answer the question I posed earlier: Did this movie really have to be made? I'll let you decide, but I say Yes, Absolutely.

Despite the legitimate concerns of the police union, we (police, the public they serve) must be constantly reminded of the conditions that allowed the corruption to take root. The movie portrays those conditions dramatically and graphically and illustrates how to recognize and prevent police corruption in the future.

This is a good and important movie and it's one you can't afford to miss.


                              Video Interviews About the Movie

The following insightful video interviews about the Rampart movie feature actor Woody Harrelson, Director Oren Moverman and Producer Ben Foster.

First, Woody Harrelson talks about how difficult it is to play a bad guy...

                                                     Rampart Actor Woody Harrelson
                                                                  Runs: 1:12 Mins

Next is a spectacular video interview with Director Oren Moverman.

                                                 Rampart Director Oren Moverman
                                                                 Runs: 3:36 Mins

Before you go to see the Rampart movie, watch this next video first with comments from the film's Producer Ben Foster and Director Oren Moverman about how they shaped the story.

                               Rampart Producer Ben Foster and Director Oren Moverman
                                                                 Runs: 4:15 Mins

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