Mr. Big Mouth

Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo is a smart guy. Just ask him. But his worst enemy isn't his legion of critics—good-government activists, prosecutors, fellow deputies, police department lawyers in at least three cities and the county grand jury.

No, Jaramillo's biggest problem is his mouth.

The county grand jury is already investigating charges the Sheriff Department's No. 2 man interfered in a gang-rape case and drug bust involving the son of one of his colleagues, Sheriff's Reserve boss Don Haidl. Now, Jaramillo's deposition in a related case has turned up evidence that he accepted as much $10,000 from a company vying for a lucrative state contract and charges that he perjured himself.

The evidence is contained in Jaramillo's answers during a Feb. 9 deposition in Gail Haidl's $15 million civil suit against the Newport Beach and San Bernardino police who arrested her son for the 2002 gang rape of an unconscious 16-year-old.

In that deposition, Jaramillo admitted he accepted up to $10,000 from CHG Safety Technologies as payment for "consulting." He added that he properly disclosed the fee in an annual ethics report.

But the ethics report doesn't reveal that CHG was lobbying for a contract on the state-mandated installation of the company's electronic device on all of California's 30 million vehicles to help cops end pursuits. CHG ultimately won valuable support for its proposed legislation from the Sheriff's Department. Without disclosing the fee paid to Jaramillo, the department told state senators that CHG's measure deserved approval. The measure failed when General Motors and Honda raised safety concerns about the device.

Department rules prohibit officers from accepting "any gift, gratuity, reward or other thing of value" that "might tend to influence directly or indirectly" the official actions of the officer or "cast an adverse reflection on the department."

"This certainly looks like a real conflict of interest," said long-time government watchdog Shirley Grindle. "It's either a violation of the county's gift ban or an ethics code violation because he was getting something of value from a company hoping to do business with the department. This is typical Jaramillo."

The controversy surrounding the deposition doesn't end there. Now grand jury investigators are looking into charges that Jaramillo perjured himself on a separate matter. Questioned by lawyers for police, the assistant sheriff, a political appointee, refused to divulge his activities on behalf of the Haidls. His reason: "I have been directed by the grand jury in my county not to discuss the matter with anyone."

Bruce D. Praet, a lawyer for the Newport Beach Police Department in that deposition, didn't believe Jaramillo's assertion, and persisted with questions. The annoyed assistant sheriff replied, "They gave me a very definite order with certain penalties attached if I were to violate them."

If Jaramillo's claim was true, he had already violated the admonitions in December when he spoke on the record and at length to the Weekly, admitting that he wanted to manipulate media coverage for the Haidls in the rape and pot incidents but denying any wrongdoing.

But legal experts say the standard admonition requires only that witnesses not disclose "which questions were asked or what responses were given" during a grand jury proceeding.

"Nobody is ever told they can't talk at all about an issue," said Susan Kang Schroeder, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, which advises the local panel. "The prohibition is designed to block a witness from describing what happened in the grand jury room or revealing what the grand jury is doing."

In that same deposition, Jaramillo also claimed that Judge Daniel J. Didier told him not to speak about the Haidls outside the grand jury. According to documents obtained by the Weekly, Praet later asked the District Attorney's office to investigate the claim. In a February 26 letter, the DA's office replied that the office "is unaware of any existing order issued by Judge Didier or any other judge in this county that would prohibit a grand jury witness from discussing facts within that witness's personal knowledge."

News of the grand jury investigation emerged in October when KCBS-TV reporter Dave Lopez caught the startled assistant sheriff emerging from a grand jury session. He'd taken the Fifth Amendment. Among the topics: Jaramillo's alleged personal use of the department's $720-per-hour helicopter and charges that he helped his wife capture a lucrative fund-raising contract from a department-related charity.

The assistant sheriff did not agree to an interview for this story.


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