By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
A bombshell audio recording reveals police suppressed evidence that Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl's teenage son was caught smoking marijuana while awaiting trial on charges he participated in a 2002 videotaped gang rape of an unconscious 16-year-old girl.
Official records show that Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo secretly ordered Sgt. Richard Downing to bury evidence of Gregory Scott Haidl's involvement in an Oct. 26 San Clemente drug bust. Records also prove that Sheriff's Lt. William J. Hunt--chief of police services in San Clemente, where the sheriff has jurisdiction--released Haidl without arrest and chauffeured him home. In a subsequent report, Hunt downplayed the ride as a "courtesy to another member of the department whose son was in a situation he should not have been in."
Haidl is awaiting a March trial on the rape charges. Under terms of his $100,000 bail, a drug arrest would have landed the 18-year-old in jail immediately.
Sheriff's Department officials deny they obstructed justice on Haidl's behalf.
But a sheriff's department audio recording offers a rare, candid glimpse of Orange County law enforcement. On the tape, an excited Downing reaches Jaramillo at home on the night of Oct. 26. He tells Jaramillo, a political appointee close to Sheriff Mike Carona, that deputies have helped Haidl get out of "trouble." Downing tells Jaramillo that officers found young Haidl "smoking pot behind some industrial buildings" with two other teenagers and that Hunt has "cut loose" Haidl without arrest or citation.
"Okay," says Jaramillo, who then orders that any records of the encounter be "buried" because "the press will be all over this." Downing replies that the incident won't appear in the official log. He tells Jaramillo the drug bust will be "our little secret."
For five days, the stratagem worked. Deputies kept the episode hidden from public view by recording erroneous or factually incomplete information in their reports. Deputy J. Roche, an officer at the scene, wrote in his Oct. 26 "Daily Activity Report" that he merely found the three teenagers skateboarding in San Clemente's Talega Business Park. He concluded vaguely: "all released; no prosecution." Roche did not mention Haidl's family connection or rape charges, the sandwich bag and orange pill bottle containing 3.5 grams of marijuana, the yellow glass smoking pipe with pot residue, or why officers had lingered at the scene for 65 minutes.
All anyone on the outside world was supposed to know about the drug bust was the deceptive words deputies used on the department's online incident log: "traffic stop."
But on Oct. 31, KCBS-TV reporter Dave Lopez spooked deputies when he confronted them with a tip that Haidl had received a favor, like a ride home from an illegal skateboarding event. Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino coyly told Lopez that Haidl had been given a ride home, but said the favor wasn't a big deal.
Officers may have appeared calm, but behind the scenes tension mounted. Sheriff's department records show that within hours of the Lopez call, deputies filed a new, backdated and altered "crime report" and, in violation of sheriff's policy, logged the drugs--inexplicably minus the pot pipe--into the evidence locker more than 100 hours after they'd been confiscated.
Roche's new version of events carried a handwritten date of Oct. 26 but was not time-stamped until Oct. 31. During those five days the skateboarding incident became a "possession of marijuana" case--not against Haidl, but against his 16-year-old companion. Roche dutifully noted that he had "seized" drugs and promptly logged the narcotics into evidence. Nowhere did he bother to explain numerous discrepancies with his original report.
Even more problematic is that sheriff's department files do not support Roche's new account. For example, evidence-tracking records reviewed by the Weekly demonstrate that many items were logged in during the Oct. 26-27 shift--a fraudulent check, a screwdriver, a Popov vodka bottle, a spray-paint can, a California license plate and an obscenity-laden paddle--but no drugs from the Haidl incident.
An apparent part of the cover-up was the effort to get the 16-year-old suspect to take responsibility for the pot—in hopes of relieving Haidl of any culpability. Law enforcement sources claim Haidl's 16-year-old skateboarding companion agreed to the deal sometime between Oct. 26 and Oct. 31. They say the minor was promised that his name would remain secret and he'd only have to attend drug diversion classes as punishment.
On Nov. 3, KCBS aired its report about deputies giving Haidl a special ride home, and though some involved officers privately expressed no fear, others openly worried about further leaks. The next day, Chief Hunt wrote a memo to the City Council and City Manager George Scarborough. In the memo, Hunt expressed hope that there would be "no more negative press." He also described the affair as routine and promised "there was no reason for [Haidl's] arrest."
But Hunt didn't mention that his officers had filed multiple contradictory reports, publicly listed a drug bust as a traffic stop, misplaced the pot pipe and took five days to log the marijuana into evidence. At the end of the memo, he noted that he would continue to work with the sheriff's media relations unit to explain the "actual circumstances of this incident" to the press.
But it's not just the press asking questions anymore. In early November, the grand jury opened an investigation to determine if officers obstructed justice on Haidl's behalf. The citizen-led panel working in conjunction with District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has a copy of the Downing-Jaramillo audiotape as well as contradictory official reports of the incident. The first witness called in for an explanation was Jaramillo, but he pleaded the 5th Amendment.