Once students have finally grabbed their snacks, Rosenthal starts up the movie. Over the past few months, they've analyzed books ranging from To Kill a Mockingbird to A Time to Kill and such films as 12 Angry Men and The Verdict, not to mention what Rosenthal considers one of the most accurate media portrayals of the justice system, My Cousin Vinny. Today they watch Witness for the Prosecution, a 1957 film based on an Agatha Christie story.

Once the final scene ends, the class begins picking apart the melodramatic production. The central conceit, involving secret marriages and conniving spouses, just doesn't make any sense. Courtrooms aren't anything like the one in the film, with all the emotional outbursts on the stand and bloody confrontations on the floor. And the film's hero? The bighearted, brandy-pickled attorney Sir Wilfred Robarts, the attorney who takes on a suicide mission of a case simply because he doesn't like to fail? Lawyers aren't really like that.

Except that when he was working in the district attorney's office in L.A., Rosenthal himself took on just such a case. After all, as he often puts it, "I hate to lose."

Police union president Nick Rogers says officers are afraid to do their jobs.
Police union president Nick Rogers says officers are afraid to do their jobs.

Growing up in Sherman Oaks, he'd recognized that he was destined for the courtroom when, in fourth grade, he found himself able to deliver sparkling extemporaneous oral reports. "It was at that point I realized that public speaking was my forte, especially persuasive public speaking," he remembers. So after studying law at the University of California, Berkeley, he took a senior law-clerk job with the Los Angeles County district attorney. It was a job that meshed perfectly with how he was wired. "I was pathologically self-righteous," he says. "I always follow the rules. I do the right thing, and you know what? If you are not going to do the right thing, I need to be part of holding you accountable for not doing it."

When he started that job, in 1986, there seemed to be a lot of people around L.A. not doing the right thing. Rosenthal tackled his first homicide case one year out of law school. Soon after, he was assigned to the office's major-fraud division, prosecuting doctors and lawyers for multimillion-dollar insurance scams. "I was having a ball. I loved it," he recalls. "I was able to hone my craft. And in court, you're like an actor who gets a regular salary, with an audience who can't get up and leave."

Then, while part of the district attorney's special investigations division, Rosenthal stumbled into his biggest courtroom drama of all. In 1999, he was prosecuting L.A. cop Rafael Perez for stealing cocaine from an evidence locker. To get off, Perez offered to snitch on bigger crimes — like the fact that his partner shot a gang member and covered it up. And that, he hinted, was just the beginning.

The beginning, it turned out, of the Rampart scandal, one of the most widespread cases of police misconduct in the country's history. The investigation that grew out of Perez's allegations would eventually implicate seventy anti-gang officers from the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division in west L.A., in everything from dirty shootings to planting evidence, from drug dealing to bank robbery, with dirty cops even showing up on the payroll of Death Row Records. Only in L.A.: Echoes of the scandal wound up on TV in The Shield, in the movie Cellular and in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

As the liaison between the cops and the DA's Rampart Task Force, Rosenthal got unprecedented access to the police internal affairs division, where he saw a side of police culture he'd never experienced as a prosecutor. "It wasn't until I went inside that I started to see how politics really affected police culture, all the way down to line officers," he says. "I saw how internal affairs could be used to harass and intimidate officers, and could be used to ignore bad conduct and cover it up. Nothing got out. That was the thing about the LAPD: They never wanted anything bad to get out to the public."

And that police culture seemed to stymie the prosecutors. The investigation eventually sputtered out, with most of the officers acquitted of wrongdoing as rumors swirled over political feuds and police coverups. But in the meantime, questions about police conduct led the courts to toss out 106 criminal convictions, with the city paying a record $125 million in civil lawsuits and the feds coming in to take over the LAPD at a cost of a hundred million more. "I saw a system where jurors and judges and prosecutors couldn't trust the police," says Rosenthal. "The entire system breaks down. If you don't have that, you have anarchy."

He also saw that it was time for him and his wife, herself a prosecutor, to get out of town. "I was not going to be able to live it down for a decade," he says. "Wherever I went, I would be the guy who started Rampart."

That's why, in 2001, he jumped at the opportunity to become the first police auditor in Portland, Oregon. While the job represented a major cut in pay, it was also an opportunity to confront police misconduct in a new way. "I used to think that through the sheer force of my will, I could change things and get things done," Rosenthal remembers. "But what I think I learned through Rampart was that if you are dealing with an entrenched bureaucracy, the frontal assault may not be the way to go. You have got to work with them to establish the long-term change."

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8 comments
KST
KST

Rosenthal says Denver has a good police department but all he talks about in interviews isa few cases that have been sensationalized. Why doesn't he discuss the statistics from his Annual Report 2010? In the report he says, "It is important to note that only a small proportion of citizen-police contacts in 2010 resulted in a citizen complaint. For example, Denver Police officers responded to 465,511 calls for service in 2010. In the same time period, the DPD received 601 citizen complaints against its officers, which amounts to a conservative estimate of roughly one complaint for ever 775 calls for service (or .013%)"

He goes on to say, "Only a relatively small proportion of DPD officers had one complaint sustained in 2010 (5.3%) and no officers had more than two complaints sustained in one year."

This information is on the OIM website but it is not well publisized. If Rosenthal really wantstransparancy and believes DPD is a good department why doesn't he use these statitistics in his interview and tell people to read the entrie report on the OIM website?

KST

Ray Denonville
Ray Denonville

The Denver Police Union P.P.A. wants Rosenthal fired. A Denver Copwatch member I spoke with wants Rosenthal fired; something about L.A.P.D. If the P.P.A. and Denver Copwatch both want Rosenthal fired he must be doing something right.

Garygoode
Garygoode

As an employee of several large industries, all of which were unionized, an oversite department is always needed. To those that are caught, they hate the system, those who remain unscathed, no issues.

Videos are everywhere in our society now; most of the complaints about the Denver Police beating the citizens have been followed with some "interesting" video evidence. Generally, when there is no video, the case goes away without a conviction or reprimand.

Times have changed, now the police unions are fighting the system by confronting only the enforcers, not the videos, not the evidence, nor the complaints.

Remember the banking meltdown of 2008? The banking and financial enforcement agency went for years trying to regulate themselves only to become the advocates of a bad system.

Let the unions run the show and we all will pay.

Grab your camera and hit the streets.

Darthurwhittle
Darthurwhittle

Rosenthal keeping an eye on Denver cops----but not too close------------------

AnyBodyButObama 2012
AnyBodyButObama 2012

Denver "Doesn't have a bad Police Department..."? This is who saying this? I'm sure the rash of bad cops over the last few years is just an "Accident"! And those are only the ones that got caught, what is the percentage that hasn't?

Kenneth Westervelt
Kenneth Westervelt

West Denver Copwatch has no love for the man. I don't really have a dog in the fight, as I've never had problems like this when I ran into police in the past.

Fds3
Fds3

It is real easy to blame the police and the sherriff's for all the problems but Mr Rosenthal you couldn't do there job and you have no clue of the type of people they deal with. I think that you should think about this thought.

Boyhood
Boyhood

Rosenthal needs to go trust me....

 
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