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Sunday Morning News

LAPD's Anti-Gang Unit is Disbanded Following Widespread Corruption Scandal

Aired March 12, 2000 - 9:03 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We begin in Los Angeles, where a few hours ago a special police unit formed to fight gang violence has been disbanded following a widespread corruption scandal. The action comes as a newspaper survey shows gang violence up sharply in the section of L.A. hit by the scandal.

CNN's Charles Feldman reports on the troubled special unit and how its demise impacts one officer who spent 15 years on the anti-gang beat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): L.A. is a city with both a gang and drug problem. So severe was this problem that back in 1979, special units were created called CRASH, Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums. The units attracted some of the best men and women the Los Angeles Police Department could offer.

But as it turned out, it also attracted some of the worst.

RAFAEL PEREZ, FORMER POLICE OFFICER: Whoever chases monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster himself.

FELDMAN: Officers like Rafael Perez, who admits to having shot and framed an innocent man. And he's implicated many other CRASH cops for a variety of abuses.

Because of the corruption scandal, the CRASH units have now been disbanded, and that clearly upsets Sergeant Curtis Buttel (ph), who spent most of his 15 years on the force with CRASH.

(on camera): You're proud, you say, of what you've done, and now the department is dismantling the units. I mean, do you feel a certain degree of ingratitude now then (ph)?

SGT. CURTIS BUTTEL, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT: Yes, I do feel some. But I'll get over it. You know, this department is resilient. We'll continue to do gang suppression in other forms.

FELDMAN (voice-over): In fact, the police chief says new units will soon be deployed, renamed and largely restaffed, a slap in the face for many of the 300 or so men and women who feel they've risked their lives to rid neighborhoods of drugs and gangs.

(on camera): It's obviously not a joyous time for them, that it's coming to an end.

BUTTEL: They feel hurt, they feel badly.

FELDMAN: Who do you blame for that? Is it -- do you blame the chief, do you blame the city, do you blame the mood of the times, or all those, none of those?

BUTTEL: Well, I -- you know, I blame Rafael Perez, personally. That's who I blame, because that's where he was working, and he done some very horrible things, and he brought 300 or so police officers to shame. That's who I blame.

FELDMAN (voice-over): Sergeant Buttel is a big man with a lot of passion for his work, his former work. He insisted on showing us some pictures on a wall, pictures of the last three LAPD officers, CRASH unit members, killed by gangs.

BUTTEL: These are my officers. These are the guys that I work around. They kind of had the same passion that I have, you know, with putting these guys in jail.

FELDMAN (on camera): If they were still alive today, how would you explain to them what's happening to CRASH?

BUTTEL: I really have no words for it. I can't explain to them. But I do want them to know that we appreciate, you know, what they done. We appreciate it.

FELDMAN: You all right?

BUTTEL: I'm fine.

FELDMAN: OK.

(voice-over): And what of the gang-infested neighborhoods now left abandoned by the demise of CRASH? Ask this man. He lives in fear. He speaks only in shadows, scared to death that life without CRASH will be even more hellish than it already is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing much I can do, hoping that some police officer or someone would be on patrol. This is the only hope I have, because there's no hope if no more CRASH men or no one to protect us.

FELDMAN: Sergeant Buttel and the other former CRASH officers we talked to won't say it with such direct words, but there's little doubt they feel that way too.

Charles Feldman, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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