An LAPD criminalist who alleges the department deliberately overlooked evidence that linked a detective to the 1986 killing of a nurse says in new court papers that she did not come forward immediately because she feared the consequences.
“I was aware that failure to toe the line in LAPD cover-ups resulted in retaliation,” Jennifer Francis says in a sworn statement.
Francis sued the city in Los Angeles Superior Court in October 2013, alleging Detective Cliff Sheppard of the Robbery-Homicide Division’s cold case unit ignored the results of DNA tests that she performed as a criminalist in the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division.
Those results gained importance years later when another detective determined that LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus killed romantic rival Sherri Rasmussen.
Francis alleges that Sheppard knew Lazarus had ties to the victim and did not want to consider her a suspect. Francis also claims she was told by supervisors beginning in 2005 to ignore possible evidence implicating Lazarus in Rasmussen’s slaying.
Rasmussen was found beaten and shot in February 1986 in the Van Nuys townhouse she shared with her husband, whom Lazarus had dated. Lazarus was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced in May 2012 to 27 years to life in prison.
“Detective Sheppard had made it very clear to me, with his tone and language, that the LAPD detective (Lazarus) who had a prior sexual relationship with Rasmussen’s husband was not considered a suspect,” Francis says in her sworn statement. “Initially, I remained silent about Detective Sheppard’s protection and cover-up for the LAPD detective out of fear of backlash and retaliation in the crime lab and from the department.”
Francis says she “heard” that Detective Ya-May Christle “suffered intense retaliation for reporting LAPD’s involvement in the cover-up of the murder of (rapper) Biggie Smalls. I also knew that Lt. Jim Gavin was retaliated against after he spoke out against the sloppy, dishonest, false and biased investigation that led to the wrongful conviction and decades-long imprisonment of Bruce Lisker for the murder of his mother.”
Lisker was found guilty of the March 10, 1983, slaying of his 66-year- old mother, Dorka, in the family’s Sherman Oaks residence. He was later exonerated and released in August 2009.
Francis’ 12-page declaration is part of her lawyers’ court papers opposing the city’s motion, set for a Jan. 11 hearing to dismiss all or part of her case on grounds there are no triable issues in her case.
Francis says Sheppard became “agitated, angry and aggressive” with her after she asked him if it was possible that Rasmussen knew her attacker.
“He raised his voice and insisted that Rasmussen was the victim of a botched burglary by a male-female team,” Francis says.
Sheppard did say that an LAPD detective had an “on-again, off-again sexual relationship with the victim’s husband,” but he also declared that “she (the detective) is not a part of this,” according to Francis.
Detective James Nuttall contacted Francis in February 2009, said he was working on the Rasmussen case and told her had read her reports and analyses she prepared in the Rasmussen case in 2005, she says.
“We think it may be one of us,” Nuttall told Francis, according to her declaration.
Francis devotes several pages of her sworn statement to criticisms of her former boss, Harry Klann.
“I knew and had heard that my immediate supervisor, Harry Klann, had a long history of discrimination and retaliation directed at women in the crime lab that the crime lab and LAPD tolerated and permitted to go unchecked,” Francis says.
She claims Klann repeatedly called female criminalists “stupid” and once pointed a laser pointer pen light into the eyes of a female student lab worker and laughed.
Francis says she told a deputy district attorney in late 2009 that she believed detectives were improperly excluding and protecting potential suspects in the Rasmussen case. She also maintains that she reported to Klann her concerns about possible improper police practices in the killing, but that he told her she should “keep a low profile — meaning I should not say anything more about it.”
Francis says that in response to her reporting the violations, she was “wrongfully forced to undergo psychological analysis.”
In addition, Klann told Francis’ supervisors and colleagues that she was “mentally unstable” and that she “slept with a gun under her pillow,” Francis says.
Francis says she was removed from providing further analyses in the case of serial murder suspect Lonnie Franklin Jr., also known as the Grim Sleeper, even though she had provided important information to the Department of Justice in the effort to narrow down the number of potential suspects.
Francis’ lawyers state in their court papers that she was further retaliated against by being transferred to a non-analytical position by having to work additional duties. They say she also suffered damage to her reputation.
But in their court papers, lawyers for the City Attorney’s Office state that Francis was referred to psychological services because her supervisors were concerned about her erratic behavior. They also say she was removed from the Grim Sleeper case as part of a reallocation of resources.
— City News Service