Rampart Scandal Officer Takes 5th

One of the former police officers convicted in the infamous LAPD Rampart scandal said he will refuse to answer questions in an upcoming civil lawsuit because he doesn't want to be charged with more crimes.

Former LAPD Officer Nino Durden and his former partner, Rafael Perez, were convicted of shooting gang member Javier Ovando on Oct. 12, 1996 and then framing him, which eventually exposed the Rampart scandal, in which members of the police anti-gang unit, based in the Rampart Division, were framing gang members and stealing their drugs.

Both officers served prison time for their part in the scandal, while three other officers had their convictions overturned.

Ovando was paralyzed in the shooting and sentenced to more than 23 years in prison. He spent nearly three years behind bars before his conviction and sentence were overturned.

After being released from prison, Ovando sued the county and Deputy Public Defender Tamar Toister, alleging attorney incompetence.

A jury awarded Ovando $6.5 million, but Judge Tricia Ann Bigelow, who presided over the trial, later overturned the award.

Lawyers representing Los Angeles County are preparing for the retrial and want to question Durden.

But they said Durden cited his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when they tried to question him in February and want Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Susan Bryant-Deason to order the former officer to answer
their questions.

In a declaration submitted Tuesday, Durden said he did not answer the inquiries because he has a genuine concern about being prosecuted for additional crimes.  

"I am fearful that if I am required to answer those questions, then I might be charged with attempted murder of (Ovando), attempted murder of other individuals, criminal conspiracy to violate the civil rights of individuals
other than (Ovando) and other charges," Durden stated.

The ex-officer said he is a defendant in more than 50 federal civil rights lawsuits as a result of his service with the LAPD anti-gang unit, including one involving the death of rapper Christopher "Biggie Smalls"
Wallace. He said that if he is forced to answer questions in the Ovando case he could also be charged with conspiring to violate the civil rights of those suing him in the federal cases.

But the lawyers for the county say Durden cannot choose what questions he will answer and which ones he will not.

"Durden cannot decide for himself whether he is entitled to assert this (Fifth Amendment) right in response to deposition questions," the county's court papers state. "This court makes that decision."

The attorneys say Durden has been prosecuted already and bringing new charges would be double jeopardy.

"He has waived his self-incrimination rights concerning those charges for which he (pleaded) guilty," the county's court papers state. "And the statute of limitations bars new charges against him arising out of his conduct toward Ovando."

A hearing on the motion is scheduled April 20.

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