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Anaheim city officials have discovered a new weapon in the war on irritating gadflies: their own police department's homicide and major assaults squad.
Anaheim police detectives recently investigated a local anti-Disney gadfly for alleged assault against the city's Deputy Fire Marshal Jeff Lutz. By law, an assault complaint can be filed against another person even if there were no physical contact.
That's a crucial point because there's no evidence William Fitzgerald did anything other than hector and possibly insult Lutz during an argument about whether Fitzgerald should apologize to Lutz's secretary. Fitzgerald admits that he "chewed out" the secretary during a telephone conversation a day before meeting with Lutz and later refused to apologize to her.
Lutz failed to respond to telephone calls seeking comment for this story. But Lieutenant Bob Conklin, an Anaheim police spokesman, said the investigation had been completed and no charges would be filed. "We have to take these things seriously,"he said. "Workplace violence is kind of scary."
Fitzgerald considers the assault complaint an attempt by the city to intimidate him because of his involvement with Anaheim Homeowners Maintaining Their Environment (HOME), a group of residents who live near Disneyland and for years have blamed the theme park's annual summer fireworks show for plaguing their neighborhoods with clouds of acrid, black smoke.
Fitzgerald denies that any assault took place in Lutz's Anaheim Fire Department office, where they met on July 14. Fitzgerald says the only physical contact came when he shook hands with Lutz, who then turned over copies of public records regarding the number of shells Disney claims it launches during its nightly fireworks show.
"He said, 'You called yesterday and made my secretary cry, and I want you to apologize,'" Fitzgerald recalled. "I said, 'No, she was rude to me on the phone, so she should apologize to me.'"
Fitzgerald owned up to yelling at the secretary but says his rudeness was justified because, he claims, the fire department was not cooperating with his California Public Records Act request. "After calling and getting blown off for a few weeks, I chewed her out after she gave me a bunch of crap," Fitzgerald said. "I said, 'You don't work for Disney; you work for Anaheim. Disney won't control this town forever, and if you don't do your job, we'll make sure you don't have one and make sure you don't get your retirement.'"
Several days after his meeting with Lutz, the head of the Anaheim homicide bureau and another detective visited Fitzgerald, who says the interrogation left him mystified. "They wanted to know what went on in the meeting. They asked me if I was ever a member of the Nazi party. They asked my birth date three or four times and told me I wasn't in World War II."
Fitzgerald, who claims he served in the Green Berets in Vietnam, said the detectives might be confused because several Anaheim HOME members are World War II vets, and Fitzgerald has hectored the City Council about fining or arresting older veterans over code-enforcement violations. He added that has no idea why police think he could be a Nazi. "Maybe they think it's a hate crime," he said. "I kind of feel like I've been set up."
Eric Sasahara, Fitzgerald's lawyer, attended the interrogation. "It seemed like the detectives were asking Mr. Fitzgerald if he made statements to Lutz that he hated Nazis and would crush them with his hammer or something to that effect," Sasahara said. "It seemed like everything was focused on verbal statements. They did ask if Mr. Fitzgerald ever hit the table or stood up or leaned over, but they never asked if he had any physical contact with Mr. Lutz. And the only contact he did have with Lutz, which was witnessed by his friend, was that they shook hands and left amicably."
Fitzgerald says he even has an eyewitness to the alleged assault: his friend and brother-in-law John McLaurin, who lunched with Fitzgerald that day and accompanied him to Lutz's office. McLaurin, who had not been contacted by Anaheim police at press time, says Lutz invited them into a conference room, gave Fitzgerald a stack of documents, and then asked McLaurin to leave the room so he could speak privately with Fitzgerald.
"I went into the hallway," McLaurin said. "I guess they talked for three or five minutes. I could hear both of them speaking but couldn't understand what was being said. It was muffled. . . . Then they walked out, and this fellow gave me a nod of acknowledgement. I thought it was a friendly thing to do. There was no outward sign of being upset."
McLaurin says he's known Fitzgerald for 30 years and has never seen him threaten anybody. "He just doesn't make threats; that's not in his nature," McLaurin said. "I am certain beyond any doubt that this is a fabrication."
However, McLaurin did concede that his brother-in-law "can be pretty annoying."
"He's very persistent," McLaurin said. "He's tenacious."