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Officer breaks LAPD's 'code of silence'
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The often mean streets of the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division are ground zero for the corruption scandal that has brought more than 70 officers under investigation for allegations of misconduct ranging from planting evidence to shooting unarmed innocent people.
So far, only five Rampart officers have been charged because federal and state prosecutors say they have found it difficult to crack what they call "a code of silence."
Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan denied September 11 that a code of silence exists in the LAPD.
"Any officer who does not report any crimes they see by other officers will be disciplined, most likely thrown out of the department. It's not tolerated and officers don't do that," he said.
But Sonni Roby, an LAPD officer who was assigned to the division, knows Rampart well. She says she also knows about corruption within the LAPD because she took part in it on the night of October 3, 1996.
Now she is breaking the "code of silence."
Roby, who was a rookie officer at the time, was on a routine patrol with her training officer, identified in a recently filed federal lawsuit as Officer John Bertino.
"We noticed a vehicle driving southbound and we were going northbound and there were two gentlemen in the vehicle who looked kind of suspicious," Roby said.
A check of the car's license plates showed it was not a stolen vehicle and Roby said there seemed to be no further reason to pursue the car.
"Bertino basically tells me that we're going to pull it over anyway," she said.
That led to a high-speed chase through the streets of the Rampart Division that ended, according to the lawsuit Roby filed against the city of Los Angeles, when the Mazda they were pursuing collided with another vehicle.
The driver of the car was charged with felony evading, but that charge was later dropped.
Roby said she thought at the time there was no probable cause to go after the car in the first place. But she said her training officer "ordered" her to write in the official arrest report that "the vehicle almost ran us off the road and we had to swerve to avoid a traffic collision."
Roby said she wrote the false statement and signed that it was true.
She said she did not protest to her training officer.
"It was almost as if... you're ordered to say this and you dare not say anything else. At that point, I knew it was wrong, but the fear was there. I was intimidated. I was afraid to say anything else," Roby said.
Roby said she quickly got her courage up and told her supervisors about the allegedly false report.
"I, as a police officer, I followed the chain of command. I gave them an opportunity to rectify the situation. I felt good that I did what I needed to do," she said.
But Roby said her protests to police supervisors fell on deaf ears.
"I was probationary and it was basically the officer's word against mine," she said.
Roby said she paid a heavy price for breaking an unofficial code of silence that frowns on whistle-blowers.
"I requested to be transferred because it just... it was unbearable," she said. "The hostility and the... you're basically an outcast and you run into situations where individuals may not want to work with you. You're labeled. You're not treated the same."
Her transfer was approved, but she said the stigma of being a whistle-blower followed her. Eventually, she said, she took a disability leave and sued the department.
The LAPD scandal began when former Officer Rafael Perez admitted to stealing cocaine from a police evidence locker and then, in exchange for a lighter prison sentence, began naming names and telling investigators about all sorts of alleged corruption.
According to a transcript of Perez's interrogation by investigators obtained by CNN, Perez names Roby's training partner as "being in the loop" -- a term Perez said means a cop willing to take illegal measures to put somebody in jail.
Bertino did not return telephone calls to CNN seeking comment.
LAPD officials declined comment, citing Roby's lawsuit.
Roby said she went public because she wants the city to sign a binding agreement on police reform with the U.S. Department of Justice. That now seems likely to happen.
Roby said she hopes the agreement finally will lift the lid on the LAPD's code of silence.
"I think there is a code of silence. You're expected to keep certain things quiet that go on within the department. I look like maybe I have a vengeance... disgruntled. I'm not disgruntled. I love being a police officer. I love being a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. However, there are things within the department that need to change," she said.
"I think the public needs to know that there are officers like myself," Roby said. "And, if I'm willing to come forward and go public, they have a security in knowing that there's people out there who still try to do the right thing."
Roby has told her story to federal law enforcement officials in Los Angeles and an investigation is ongoing.
"If officers were protected I think you would hear a lot more about the sort of things that are going on. I don't think we'd be at the level of corruption that we are right now if we have that protection. It wouldn't have gotten out of hand the way it has," Roby said.
The motto of the LAPD is to protect and serve. If negotiators for a reform agreement have their way, that protection will extend to whistle-blowers.
Los Angeles City Council agrees to federal police reforms
Department of Justice proposed consent decree
The Los Angeles Police Department
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