Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said Tuesday he has placed three officers on home assignment as the department moved swiftly to investigate allegations that officers lied under oath during a recently dismissed drug possession trial.
Bratton said he ordered the reassignment after one of the officers notified a Los Angeles Police Department watch commander that a judge had thrown out the charges, ruling that a videotape of the arrest contradicted testimony by two of the officers.
"We will not tolerate breaking the law to enforce the law," Bratton told police commissioners during their weekly meeting.
In the meantime, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he was disappointed by the allegations but praised the department for taking them seriously.
"There will always be some people who don't follow the norm, who engage in activity that is either illegal or inappropriate," the mayor told reporters during a visit to Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles. "And in those cases, people will be made responsible for their actions."
Bratton said his agency had also notified the Chino Police Department about the allegations. Evan Samuel, a Chino officer who had worked for the LAPD, was one of the men who testified last week in the cocaine possession case against Guillermo Alarcon Jr.
A Chino police spokeswoman said the department had placed Samuel on paid leave, pending the outcome of an investigation.
Samuel and LAPD Officer Richard Amio testified Friday that they were on patrol in Los Angeles last year when they chased Alarcon, 29, into his Hollywood apartment building. There, they told jurors, they saw him throw away a black object. They testified that Samuel had picked up the object and found about $260 worth of powder and crack cocaine inside.
But footage from the grainy video, which Alarcon's attorney used to confront the officers, shows that it took the two officers more than 20 minutes to find the drugs. They were aided in their search by other officers.
After viewing the tape, Los Angeles County prosecutors said they believed about 13 seconds of audio had been edited out. Nevertheless, they asked Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner to dismiss the charges. Bachner did so and took the unusual step of declaring Alarcon factually innocent.
LAPD officials declined to identify the three officers placed on leave, citing state laws protecting officer privacy.
Along with Amio and Samuel, one other officer testified in the case.
During a preliminary hearing in January, Officer Manuel Ortiz said he had arrived at the apartment building after Alarcon was in custody and did not help Amio and Samuel to search for drugs. He denied having found the container that police identified as belonging to Alarcon.
The video does not show who found the drugs, but at one point an officer appears to say, "Manny found that." The officers appear to talk about trying to open the object and later say it contains cocaine.
Tim Sands, president of Los Angeles Police Protective League, warned against a rush to judgment.
"Grainy apartment building surveillance video, shot from a distance, from an angle and in the dark -- and with sound gaps that have been edited out does not tell the whole story," he said in a statement.
The officers could not be reached for comment.
Alarcon's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Victor Acevedo, said the videotape came from a surveillance camera mounted in the apartment building. Alarcon's mother, he said, is the building manager and turned on the camera soon after police detained her son.
Acevedo said he provided LAPD internal affairs investigators with a copy Tuesday, adding that his client would cooperate with the investigation.
The defense attorney accused the officers of perjury and planting evidence on his client. And he called on investigators to pay special attention to one particular portion of the videotape, where an officer appears to refer to the subsequent arrest report.
"Be creative in your writing," the officer appears to tell another after the discovery of drugs.
The tapes contain more dialogue from the officers. But the quality of the video and audio is poor and it is often difficult to clearly hear what is being said.
A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said prosecutors would not comment on the contents of the video. She said the office had begun reviewing the allegations for possible criminal charges against the officers.