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Wednesday, July 19, 2000
The Los Angeles Times
Role of Officer, D.A. Official Questioned
By SCOTT GLOVER, MATT LAIT, Times Staff Writers
A former high-profile member of the district attorney's
Rampart corruption task force and a veteran detective from the
LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division are accused of improperly
influencing the identification of suspects in armed-robbery
cases, according to court documents and interviews.
Judges have dismissed three cases, which were investigated
by Det. Ray Hernandez and prosecuted by ex-Deputy Dist.
Atty. George Rosenstock. Rosenstock and Hernandez deny
The two are accused of allowing robbery victims to study
and keep photos of their alleged assailants before attempting to
pick the attackers out in live lineups or in court, a practice that
some legal experts say corrupts the identification process. Two
victims said in interviews with The Times that they felt pressured
to make positive identifications in their cases, regardless of
whether they believed the suspects had actually committed the
Rosenstock, who resigned from the district attorney's office
last month, had been removed from the D.A.'s corruption task
force in February. He made headlines two months later when he publicly
accused Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti and Garcetti's handpicked team
of prosecutors of being too slow to file charges against LAPD
officers implicated in the corruption probe.
Judge Dismisses Robbery Charges
The cases now under scrutiny are unrelated to Rosenstock's
role in the corruption probe. They are cases he prosecuted
while assigned to the district attorney's career criminal division.
In the most recent case, a judge dismissed robbery charges
against defendant Patrick Williams last month when it was
disclosed that a victim in the case had been given a photo of
Williams before attending a live lineup in which he identified the
Deputy Dist. Atty. George Castello, who inherited the case
from Rosenstock when Rosenstock was transferred to the
corruption task force, asked the judge to dismiss the case
because he believed it was fatally flawed by the identification
Superior Court Judge Judith L. Champagne agreed.
"There has been a lot of time wasted, a lot of expense,
because of very poor tactics," Champagne told Castello. "I
hope your office will take some action."
Hernandez, who is highly regarded by his colleagues in the
LAPD and by many prosecutors as well, declined to comment
for this article.
According to several sources in both the district attorney's
office and the LAPD, Hernandez acknowledged giving two
robbery victims photos of their alleged assailants in advance of
live lineups or preliminary hearings in which identifications were
expected to be made.
Hernandez said he felt uneasy about this procedure, and
provided the photos only on instructions from Rosenstock, the
sources said. Hernandez said Rosenstock told him that the
practice would later be revealed to the defense in court, but that
never happened, the sources said.
The former prosecutor also pointed to a case last year in
which he exposed the alleged coaching of a witness by another
LAPD detective. In that case, Rosenstock brought to the
court's attention that the detective allegedly had pointed out the
suspect for the victim to pick in a "six-pack," a display of six
photographs of different people used to establish the identity of
a suspect. "The judge heard that and dismissed it outright," Rosenstock
said. "I think that shows I don't really play the identification
Spillane, the district attorney official, while refusing to
comment specifically on Rosenstock's case, said the practice in
question is not sanctioned by his office.
"This is not something we encourage or condone, because it
raises the question of impropriety," he said.
Others seized on the risk associated with such a practice.
"Erroneous eyewitness identification is the most common
cause of wrongful convictions of innocent people in this
country," said Los Angeles County Public Defender Michael P.
Judge. "For the prosecutor and the police to engage in such a
suggestive process taints the identification and corrupts the
criminal justice system."
Attorney Cites Other Cases
The allegations against Rosenstock and Hernandez were
lodged in court papers filed by Williams' attorney in the robbery
case that was dismissed last month.
Attorney Arna H. Zlotnik wrote in a sworn declaration that
Rosenstock "is willing and has the propensity to accept less
than truthful representations, including suggestive identification
Zlotnik said she and her investigator uncovered similar
alleged abuses in the handling of victims in other robbery cases
investigated by Hernandez and prosecuted by Rosenstock.
The first case Zlotnik referred to in her court papers
stemmed from the Feb. 3, 1999, strong-arm robbery of
79-year-old Ethel Austin.
Austin, who provided Zlotnik with a sworn declaration, had
just returned home from a trip to the bank and was unlocking
her front door when a man ripped her purse from her arm,
escaping with more than $200.
After the robbery, Austin said, Hernandez came to her
house and showed her several photos of potential suspects.
Austin said she was unable to identify anyone as her assailant.
More than two months after the robbery, on April 19,
Hernandez returned with more photos. This time, Austin said,
she made a tentative identification of one suspect, based on his
having a hair style and a complexion similar to those of the man
who robbed her.
As soon as she made the identification, Austin said,
Hernandez stated, "That person is wanted for other crimes."
Austin said she cautioned Hernandez that she had doubts
about the identification, but she said he instructed her to sign the
photo identification report anyway.
Austin said Hernandez returned to her house several days
later and assured her that police would get the man she had
identified and recover her purse as well. She said Hernandez
then handed her a four-page report, including a color copy of
the six-pack photo card containing a photo of the alleged
suspect, "to keep for my records."
The next time Austin heard from Hernandez, she said, he
was calling to inform her that police "had the guy [who] took
my purse" and that she had to testify in court. During the phone
call, she said Hernandez told her that the suspect had
committed many robberies and that "they were going to put him
away for a long time."
But when Austin took the witness stand at the preliminary
hearing Aug. 18, she looked across the courtroom at the
defendant and testified that he was not the man who had
robbed her, resulting in the dismissal of the case.
In a recent interview with The Times, Austin confirmed the
allegations contained in the declaration she had provided to
Zlotnik. She added that Hernandez had seemed angered by her
failure to identify the defendant in court.
"He kept pressuring me and asking if I was sure and I said,
'It's not the guy,' " Austin recalled.
Roosevelt Gordon, another robbery victim, said he was
similarly troubled by his dealings with Hernandez.
Gordon was held up at gunpoint outside his home in
South-Central Los Angeles after a trip to the bank. He told
police on the day of the robbery, Jan. 9, 1999, that one man
pointed a gun at him while another pulled his wallet from his
pocket, took his keys and ransacked his car.
About two months after he was robbed, Gordon was at a
neighborhood gas station when he saw a man who he believed
had held him up. As the man pumped gas, Gordon scribbled
down his car's license plate number. He then hurried home and
Later that day, two LAPD detectives came to his home and
showed him six-pack photo arrays of potential suspects.
Gordon tentatively identified one of the men pictured as the man
who had pointed a gun at him during the robbery.
The next day, March 19, Hernandez went to Gordon's
house. After showing Gordon some pictures of potential
suspects, the detective allegedly filled out a photo identification
report in which he wrote: "Photograph (3) in card (C) looks
similar to the robber who also had a gun pointed at me. . . . I
will be able to make a positive identification if I see him in
The photo was circled, with Gordon's signature alongside it.
"I do not recall signing an inaccurate and untrue statement
like this," Gordon said in a sworn declaration he provided to
Zlotnik. "I did not see [the second suspect] sufficiently to make
an identification and I recall seeing only one gun."
According to his declaration, Hernandez called him "some
time later" and told him it was time to come to court. Gordon
said police had earlier promised him the opportunity to view in
a live lineup the suspect he had tentatively identified as the man
who had held him at gunpoint, so he could be sure he had the
right man. Because he had not been given that opportunity,
Gordon refused to go to court. "It would be a waste of time," he said in his
declaration. As it turned out, Gordon was right.
The man police said he had picked out as the second
robber--Samuel Davis--was behind bars the day the crime was
committed, and therefore could not have been involved.
The charges against both defendants were dismissed.
In a recent interview with The Times, in which he was
shown a copy of the photo card on which he allegedly identified
Davis as one of his assailants, Gordon appeared perplexed.
"That's my signature," he said, shaking his head.
But he said he had told Hernandez repeatedly that none of
the men in the photos he had been shown was the second
robber. At Hernandez's request, Gordon said, he eventually
agreed to point out the man who looked most like the
robber--even though, he said, he made clear that the man only
resembled the suspect but was not actually the person who
Despite his concern, Gordon said he never set out to
challenge authorities in the case. In fact, he said, he tried time
and again to assist the investigation. "I wanted [the police] to
get this guy," he said.
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