[Hpn] Bad Cop, Bad Cop

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 07 Feb 2001 21:21:51 -0700


http://www.laweekly.com:80/ink/01/12/news-crogan.shtml

LA WEEKLY

February 9 - 15, 2001
Bad Cop, Bad Cop 
The troubled careers of two LAPD officers

by Jim Crogan

Time to catch up: 
David Cochrane and
Christopher Coppock

Hoping to get a bed for the night, Abner Thomas headed off to grab an early
spot in line outside the downtown Midnight Mission. As he walked down
Winston Street through L.A.ıs Skid Row district, the lanky Thomas spied some
men playing craps on the sidewalk. Unbeknownst to the gamblers, an LAPD
black-and-white carrying Officers Christopher Coppock, 28, and David
Cochrane, 34, had seen them too.

As the police car slowed to a stop, Thomas gave the dice players a ³Hi² sign
to alert them. Jumping out of the car, Cochrane yelled to Thomas, ³Turn
around and grab the fence.²

Thomas says he immediately complied. As Cochrane began the customary
pat-down for weapons, he menacingly growled, ³You think youıre pretty slick,
warning your friends.² Then he demanded to know what Thomas had in his
mouth.

Thomas, 47, told the Weekly that he denied having anything in his mouth. But
Cochrane, he says, persisted, ³If you donıt fucking spit it out, I will bust
you in the back of the head with my flashlight.²

Turning to face his accuser, the homeless man again protested that he had
nothing to hide. Thomas says he even coughed and spit several times to show
Cochrane he was telling the truth.

It was then, Thomas says, that Cochrane leaned into him. The officer opened
his own shirt pocket and showed him a crack pipe and several baggies filled
with nuggets of cocaine. ³ŒWhich one do you need,ı he asked me, Œthe pipe or
the rock?ı Iım telling you,² says Thomas. ³It was crazy.²

The date was November 6, 1997. At that time, Thomas says, he was completing
a parole term from a previous drug bust and had turned his life around. ³I
had been clean and sober for 14 months, joined a Christian fellowship, and
recently passed a drug test by my parole officer. I was following all the
rules and staying out of trouble,² he insists.

Still, Thomas says, he was scared. ³I told the cop that I was on parole, and
he responded, ŒYouıre on parole, well, youıre going to jail.ı But he never
said for what.²

Thomas says he repeatedly begged Cochrane not to arrest him, because he
hadnıt done anything wrong. Meanwhile, Coppock, who had been interrogating
another man, joined his partner. Cochrane, Thomas says, checked his pockets
and pulled out what appeared to be a piece of lint or popcorn. He accused
him of having cocaine.

³I told him it wasnıt cocaine, and that I was clean. But he said, ŒIım no
fucking chemist, so you are going to jail.ı² (The item Cochrane collected
was later tested by the police and proved not to be drugs.) Thomas says the
men playing craps were allowed to leave the scene.

Thomas says they handcuffed him and put him in the back of the patrol car.
The time, he contends, was around 4:20 p.m., a fact that would later prove
crucial to his case.

Instead of taking him directly to Central Division for booking, Thomas says,
the officers continued to cruise the area, occasionally stopping to order
homeless men off the street. Twenty minutes later, Thomas says, his captors
happened upon Charlie Robinson, another homeless man.

Robinson was stopped outside a liquor store on Fifth Street near Crocker,
emphasizes Thomas. In his written declaration and testimony, Robinson
corroborates that claim. Both men say that Coppock and Cochrane searched
Robinson and discovered, in his pocket, a piece of a car antenna, an item
often used to smoke crack cocaine. Thomas says he saw one of the officers
use his hand radio to call for what he figured was a warrant check.

Robinson was eventually handcuffed and put in the police car alongside
Thomas. Like Thomas, Robinson protested his innocence. Robinson, he says,
denied having cocaine and said he found the antenna on the street, intending
to use it for trade. After Robinsonıs arrest, Thomas says, the officers
continued to patrol. A short time later, he says, they happened upon a group
of men using lighters on what appeared to be a pipe.

³The cops pulled up fast and jumped out of the car,² says Thomas. ³They took
the pipe from one of the men and put it on the hood of the car. Then they
searched the group, handcuffed two of the men, and put them in the
black-and-white next to me and Robinson.² The men were later identified as
Elmore Williams and William Perry, who both stated they didnıt have any
cocaine.

Finally, Thomas says, Coppock and Cochrane drove back to Central Division.
At the station, Thomas says, he protested to the watch commander that he was
innocent of any cocaine-possession charges and even offered to take a drug
test, a request that, he says, was ignored.

The arrests of the four homeless men ‹ Thomas, Robinson, Williams and Perry
‹ all with past histories of drug problems and arrests, led to the
suspension and, ultimately, termination of the two officers. The case
illustrates how hard it is to get the criminal-justice system in Los Angeles
‹ from police investigators to prosecutors and judges ‹ to take seriously
the claims of suspects who swear they are innocent.

The case is not the only one involving the fallen officers. Last October, a
grand jury indicted Coppock and Cochrane for the alleged kidnapping, false
imprisonment and beating of Delton Bowen, a homeless man. Coppock and
Cochrane are accused of driving him to the Los Angeles River and assaulting
him.

Cochrane is also alleged to have used a handgun in the commission of this
crime in the presence of Coppock. If convicted on all counts, Cochrane faces
a maximum of 18 years in prison and Coppock, nine years. Both men have
pleaded not guilty. Two weeks ago, Judge Larry P. Fidler set May 10 as a
tentative date to begin their trial.

In addition to these charges, Coppock and Cochrane are also named as
defendants in almost two dozen federal lawsuits. The accusations in those
cases range from illegal arrests and planting evidence to perjury and
malicious prosecutions.

Coppock and Cochraneıs alleged on-the-job criminal activities pose a threat
to a perceived policy of containment practiced by the LAPD as it
investigates the scandal surrounding disgraced former Rampart Officer Rafael
Perez.

Despite LAPD Chief Bernard Parksı public assertion that his investigators
have pursued thousands of clues, conducted hundreds of interviews and
amassed a million pages of documents in their no-holds-barred effort to root
out corruption, the record indicates that the department has focused on two
main goals since Perezıs history of drug thefts, evidence planting, perjury,
excessive force and false arrests came to light. One is proving that Perez
lied about other officersı misconduct. The second is limiting the collateral
damage of its investigation to one geographic division.

Critics of the LAPD, including the U.S. Justice Department, have repeatedly
charged that the so-called Rampart scandal is symptomatic of a larger
problem: a pattern and practice of constitutional violations regularly
committed by officers throughout the department. Lax or mediocre supervisors
‹ who placed a premium on results, regardless of the costs, critics assert ‹
worsened these problems.

Coppock and Cochraneıs alleged crimes and work records appear to support
those charges. For starters, Coppock and Cochrane worked out of Central
Division, not Rampart. Cochrane also served a stint on a Field Enforcement
Services unit, which focuses on making drug busts. Both Perez and David
Mack, another former officer and partner of Perez, now serving time in
federal prison for bank robbery, also worked on a Field Enforcement unit.

The department also missed or ignored a series of red flags involving
Cochrane. In 1994, Cochrane received a five-day suspension for failing to
properly care for narcotics evidence. He also received two 22-day
suspensions in 1997: once for failing to cooperate with an official
department investigation, and a second time for making false and misleading
statements to LAPD investigators.

Thomas steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout his nearly four-year
legal ordeal. While in jail, Thomas says, he rejected several increasingly
favorable deal offers by the prosecution, enduring a trial ending in a hung
jury before he finally accepted one. All four men eventually accepted plea
bargains.

³I wasnıt guilty, but I eventually took a no-contest plea for time served,
because I was sick and tired of sitting in jail. I also didnıt know if I
would ever convince a judge and jury that these cops were lying. Plus, the
D.A.ıs deal included a promise not to violate my parole on the previous
case,² he explains.

In 1999, Thomas went back to court and got a dismissal of his previous
no-contest plea in this case. The motion was granted ³in the interest of
justice.² Last September, Thomas also filed a state civil lawsuit against
Coppock and Cochrane for alleged violation of his civil rights, conspiracy,
violations of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act
(RICO) and malicious prosecution.

Intelligent and well-spoken, Thomas says heıs maintained his sobriety, is
off parole, living a ³good, Christian life² and now works full time as a
telemarketer.

It did not always look as if Thomas would persevere. Shortly after his
arrest, Thomas says, he was shocked to learn that Coppock and Cochrane had
written an arrest report, claiming to have caught him and Robinson together
using cocaine.

In their report, the officers stated they saw Thomas ³put his right hand up
to his mouth. We observed one off-white rock, resembling rock cocaine, fall
from Thoması right hand to the ground.² The officers also claimed to have
seen Robinson ³place a rock-cocaine pipe and one off-white rock, resembling
rock cocaine, down to the sidewalk beside him.² They also claimed to have
recovered an additional ³off-white rock, resembling rock cocaine² from
Thoması right front pocket.

In the Property Report, Coppock and Cochrane claimed to have booked three
pieces of rock cocaine, each totaling slightly more than one-half gram, and
a lighter, silver metal rock pipe, all allegedly recovered from Thomas and
Robinson.

At Thoması 1997 preliminary hearing and 1998 trial, only Coppock testified.
In both appearances he repeated the story contained in the arrest report.
Coppock also testified that it was he, not Cochrane, who stopped Thomas,
searched him and recovered the alleged rock cocaine from his pocket.
Although Coppock admitted at trial that the time of Thoması arrest was off
by one hour in their report, he contended that it was a mistake and not a
falsification of the facts.

³These guys lied on the arrest report and then Coppock (lied) in court,²
insists Thomas. ³Not only did Coppock lie about the facts ‹ Robinson and I
were not arrested together, and neither of us had cocaine ‹ he claimed that
it was him and not Cochrane who first stopped me.²

While he was awaiting trial on the drug charge, Thomas says, he repeatedly
told his public defender that the officers lied. However, Coppock was never
directly confronted at trial with that accusation. Thomas also says he was
so incensed by the arrest report in his case that he wrote complaint letters
to the judge, the U.S. Attorneyıs Office and the LAPD, accusing the cops of
corruption.

Although the U.S. Attorneyıs Office declined to investigate, the LAPD did.
They began the investigation in 1998. However, the LAPDıs Internal Affairs
Division (I.A.) referred the case back to Central Division, an indication
that they considered it low-priority. According to the final Internal
Affairs report, obtained by the Weekly, Central Division investigators
interviewed Coppock, Cochrane, Thomas, Robinson, Perry, and Frederick
Brennan, Thoması public defender.

Thomas, Robinson and Perry all denied having cocaine when they were
arrested. Plus, Thomas and Robinson repeated their denials that they were
arrested together. Brennan could offer no information about the arrests.
Meanwhile, Coppock and Cochrane held fast to their stories, denying all of
Thoması charges.

Investigators also reviewed printouts from the officersı in-car computer and
their Daily Field Activity Reports (DAFR), which are supposed to chronicle
their movements, arrests and warrant checks, as well as the communication
tapes of Coppock and Cochraneıs radio transmissions.

Investigators noted one warrant-search request, in the radio traffic. It
came at 4:42 p.m., while Coppock and Cochrane reported their location as
Fifth and Crocker. Although the report did not disclose whom the warrant
search involved, the location and timing supported Thoması assertion
concerning Robinsonıs arrest. The radio request also appears to back up
Thoması contention that he saw one officer use his hand radio when Robinson
was stopped.

LAPD Sergeant Godfrey Bascom supervised the completed investigation and
tells the Weekly that he found Thomas to be a ³credible witness.² However,
citing confidentiality concerns, he refused to state whether he believed the
officers had committed crimes.

Bascomıs team investigated 18 allegations that Thomas made against Coppock
and Cochrane. Those charges included the alleged false arrest of Thomas,
falsifying their arrest and DFAR reports, and discourtesy. Coppock was also
charged with giving false testimony in court, while Cochrane was accused of
illegally possessing cocaine.

Bascomıs final report was submitted to his Central Division captain on
January 21, 1999. Ultimately, the department sustained 10 allegations
against Coppock and eight against Cochrane. On February 11, 1999, the
department suspended both men.

The legal fallout from these suspensions began a short time later. On March
12, 1999, a narcotics-possession case filed against Johnnie Durham ‹
arrested in 1998 ‹ was dismissed when Deputy D.A. Ilean Richard disclosed to
the defense that Cochrane and Coppock had been suspended.

The department scheduled Board of Rights administrative hearings for both
officers. However, Cochrane was facing termination on February 16, five days
after his Thomas-related suspension. Cochraneıs termination came after he
provided a false alibi for ex-Officer Mark Haro in an unrelated
administrative hearing. Haro was facing termination for attempting to supply
narcotics to an informant as payment for information. Cochrane had also
disrupted a narcotics sting operation the department was conducting against
his friend. The LAPD has yet to refer the Haro case or Cochraneıs perjury at
Haroıs 1998 hearing to the L.A. County district attorney for possible
prosecution. Haro resigned from the force in 1998 as proceedings to fire him
were under way, according to police department documents.

Meanwhile, Coppockıs board hearing went forward. It began in March 1999.
Both Thomas and Robinson testified, repeating their charges of a frame-up.
The hearing abruptly ended when Coppock resigned on April 5 for personal
reasons.

Thus ended the departmentıs disciplinary process against the officers.
According to its own protocols, the department should have then referred the
matter to the D.A.ıs Special Investigations Division (SID) for review and
possible prosecution. Instead, nothing happened. For a time, the
Coppock-Cochrane-Thomas-Robinson case remained locked away inside Internal
Affairsı files.

Ultimately, the case against these two disgraced officers was forwarded to
the D.A., but the timing of that process is shrouded in controversy. The
LAPD claims that it sent the charges against Cochrane in the Thomas
complaint over to SID Assistant Head Deputy Jim Cosper on December 26, 1998,
and is still awaiting a decision.

Recently, D.A. Steve Cooley split the unit into two sections: the Justice
System Integrity Division, which handles law-enforcement and judicial cases,
and the Public Integrity Division, charged with prosecuting elected
officials.

Cosper, whoıs now assistant head deputy of the justice unit, says he
reviewed his files and found no referral to him regarding Cochrane that
matches that date. ³If the LAPD claims they sent it over to me then, they
are mistaken,² he says. The LAPDıs claim is further undermined by the fact
that the Internal Affairs investigation into Thoması complaint was not even
completed until January 1999.

The department also claims that the charges against Coppock, in the very
same matter, were not referred to the D.A.ıs Special Rampart Investigative
Team until March 2000. That referral finally came nearly a year after
Coppock resigned.

A source inside the D.A.ıs Office, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
contends that the LAPD reluctantly sent this case over for just two reasons.

³One, they needed to cover their ass. And two, the D.A.ıs Office requested
all I.A. information on these guys after publicity surfaced in December 1999
concerning the federal lawsuit filed by Jimmy Lee Render, accusing them of
false arrest, planting evidence and perjury. I believe these are the only
reasons our office ever got to see this material,² says the source.

Render, who coincidentally was stopped near Fifth and Crocker, the location
where Charlie Robinson was arrested, was busted by Coppock and Cochrane on
November 2, 1997, just four days before Thomas and the other three men were
arrested. Render, who was jailed for alleged cocaine possession, denied the
charge and claimed the officers told him he would ³have some drugs² when
they got him to the station.

Renderıs conviction was overturned in October 1999. The LAPD also referred
the Render investigation to the SID unit in 1998, but the D.A. declined
prosecution of Coppock and Cochrane.

According to sources inside the D.A.ıs Office, the Rampart team ³debated,
but ultimately declined, prosecution² of Coppock and Cochrane in the Thomas
complaint. However, Cosper tells the Weekly that once news stories about
these two officers began surfacing, he reclaimed all the files on LAPD
criminal-case referrals regarding Coppock and Cochrane from the Rampart
team.

The SIDıs review of that material led to the indictment of Coppock and
Cochrane in the Bowen case. Now the Weekly has learned that the D.A.ıs
police-prosecution unit is taking a second look at the Thomas complaint.
Benjamin Hecht, Thoması civil attorney, says his client was recently
interviewed.

Deputy D.A. Kraig St. Pierre is prosecuting Coppock and Cochrane in the
Bowen case and reviewing the facts surrounding the Thomas, Robinson,
Williams and Perry arrests. Because itıs an ongoing investigation, St.
Pierre declined comment on any potential new charges. However, he remains
outspoken in his evaluation of these two ex-cops.

³Coppock and Cochrane were picking on the least among us,² he says. ³Itıs
all about their abuse of power, and a clear violation of trust between these
officers and the people they were supposed to serve and protect. The Bowen
case is one clear example of that abuse of power.²

Neither Barry Levin, who is representing Coppock, nor Ira Salzman, who
represents Cochrane, would comment on the case.

In addition to Thomas, two of the other men arrested with him have also had
their convictions overturned. Perryıs motion was granted on November 3,
2000. Two weeks ago, Judge Fidler granted Robinsonıs motion, filed by
Alternate Public Defender (APD) Ida Campbell-Thomas. Robinson is currently
in prison, on another drug charge, and that case will also have to be
reviewed to see if this recently dismissed conviction had influenced his
current sentence.

Campbell-Thomas says sheıs not surprised that this miscarriage of justice
took place. ³Look at the process. You have two white cops, very experienced
and very adept at Œtesti-lying.ı Who do you think judges and juries will
believe?²

Plus, she says, these two officers routinely picked on the homeless.
³Remember, these are guys who have no jobs, no steady residences, may have
past records, and live in high-narcotics-trafficking areas. These are men
society has already thrown away,² Campbell-Thomas adds. ³Thatıs why these
cases are so outrageous.²

The whereabouts of the third man arrested with Thomas ‹ Elmore Williams ‹ is
unknown. The number of motions seeking to overturn convictions is expected
to grow as the investigation into the officersı arrests proceeds.

Last September, a judge set aside the conviction of Anthony Carnighan, who
was accused by Coppock and Cochrane of stashing cocaine in his cardboard
shelter. In an arrest report, the officers said they saw Carnighan spit
crack cocaine out of his mouth. Carnighan has since filed one of the federal
suits against these officers and the city.

In another case, Deputy Public Defender Armando Rodriguez filed a motion to
set aside the conviction of Isaac Hewing, who was arrested on a drug-related
charge. A judge set aside that conviction last Friday ‹ because it had
relied on evidence provided by Coppock, Cochrane and former Officer Sandra
Salazar. Salazar resigned in 1999 rather than face probable dismissal for
lying to protect Coppock and Cochrane in the matter of the alleged Bowen
beating. 

In the Hewing case, Coppock and Cochrane signed a report alleging Hewing to
be in possession of cocaine when they spotted him, and Salazar, who
participated in the arrest, later testified to that effect at Hewingıs
preliminary hearing. Hewingıs attorney contends the cocaine was planted.
Salazar is now testifying against Coppock and Cochrane under a grant of
immunity in the Bowen case.

Rodriguez says he plans to file two more motions seeking to reverse
convictions in cases handled by Coppock and Cochrane. Rodriguez is one of
several deputy public defenders reviewing that agencyıs cases involving
these two ex-cops. He says heıs now found a pattern and practice of
profiling in their arrests.

³I found three different fact patterns,² says Rodriguez. ³Their stops
involve either homeless African-Americans or Latinos, who are either on
parole or probation. And there is always an allegation of cocaine
possession.²

Rodriguez also says he doesnıt have a current estimate on the number of
cases involving these ex-officers. However, Deputy APD Campbell-Thomas says
her office has so far identified 162 cases that were handled by alternate
public defenders, who take cases that canıt be handled by the Public
Defenderıs Office because of a legal conflict.

³Figure the P.D.ıs Office had anywhere from three, four, even five times
that number involving these guys. So, between their office and ours, we
might have anywhere between 700 and 1,000 cases in connection with just
these two officers,² she says.

Of course, all the parties acknowledge that this doesnıt mean all
Coppock-Cochrane cases will prove to be bad. Still, the cost in review time,
court personnel, and potential claims against the city involving just these
two officers is staggering.

³Each case must be judged on [its] individual merits,² emphasizes Deputy
D.A. Eleanor Bigolski, who joined in the Carnighan-conviction dismissal. ³I
know the process is painfully slow and difficult, but our office is
committed to seeing justice done. And we will eventually get through all of
Coppock and Cochraneıs cases.²


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