Something rare happened on Friday, April 17--and it wasn't just that the Orange County Register was pretending it had broken news about a trial it's reporters hadn't attended. On that date in 6 B.C., so I'm told, the sun, Jupiter, Saturn and our moon were aligned. I won't pretend to know what astrological activities were in place yesterday, but something bizarre happened here on Earth: usually in lockstep, Orange County law enforcement bitterly split ranks.
Specifically, the Orange County District Attorney's office sparked a public feud with local sheriff's deputies, whom prosecutors believe sabotaged their just-ended excessive force case against Deputy Christopher David Hibbs. Unlike the four Register
reporters who have written about the subject, I actually covered the trial and in my April 16 column
disclosed the fact that in the Fullerton Courthouse a deputy district attorney had repeatedly accused several sheriff's deputies of lying under oath to protect a fellow cop.
The Register's initial April 14 story was a mocking of journalism--two bylines and a Fullerton dateline might have confused readers into thinking the paper had supplied them eyewitness reporting for the price of three quarters. That story, however, didn't mention the most newsworthy aspect of the case: in court, Deputy District Attorney Israel Claustro accused deputies of developing sudden, severe cases of amnesia on the witness stand resulting in an 11-1 vote for acquittal.
So in the wake of my Thursday revelation, the Register staff called Susan Kang Schroeder, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Schroeder essentially repeated what Claustro had argued in his closing argument from a week earlier. She added that she was "disappointed" by the deputies' alleged misconduct and said it's important for cops to be honest or the justice system collapses.
The Reg finally did add to the developing story on Friday after its reporters got Sheriff Sandra Hutchens to deny that deputies lie to protect each other.
But the gauntlet came down this afternoon when Wayne J. Quint, head of the Association of Orange County Sheriffs Deputies (AOCDS)--described deputies as "outraged."
"The District Attorney's comments about a 'code of silence' are an insult to all law enforcement personnel across this state and nation," Quint said in a written statement. "The AOCDS demands the following from District Attorney Rackauckas: Immediately issue a public apology for your office's slanderous statements regarding ethical and law-abiding law enforcement officers and that a code of silence exists at the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
After calling Schroeder an "underachiever," Quint demanded she resign because she has "no intelligent understanding of what law enforcement officers do day-in and day-out."
Schroeder, a prosecutor, is the wife of Republican Party heavyweight and professional service reserve deputy sheriff Michael J. Schroeder, who has served as a non-paid but powerful adviser to ex-Sheriff Mike Carona and to Rackauckas.
One of the feistiest public officials in OC, Schroeder did not respond to a request to comment on the AOCDS demand that she resign.
The ramifications of the rift could impact the upcoming race for sheriff. Mike Schroeder's is set to be a key member of Paul Walters' campaign if the veteran Santa Ana police chief decides to challenge Hutchens in the June 2010 election. Winning an AOCDS endorsement would be a factor in the race.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly