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.
Asked if he ordered deputies to bury evidence in the drug bust, Jaramillo told the Weekly, "Nope, nope, nope. I didn't give such an order . . . I never used the word bury."
But he admitted that he did hope to keep the incident—which he called a "chump-change infraction"--out of the press. "I may have said, 'Don't put [the incident] on the log,' but I had just woken up."
Jaramillo denied that his intervention was improper or illegal. "There was nothing unusual about this," he said. "We've done this many times for politicians."
"I'm not so naïve as to try to get something buried," Jaramillo said. He added that everything he discussed that night with Downing was "standard operating procedure."
Jaramillo also adamantly denied that he knew Haidl had been smoking pot. "They did not tell me that," he said.
The assistant sheriff says he welcomes the grand jury investigation. "It isn't a cover-up," he said. "It's a procedural thing about keeping embarrassing things out of the press . . . I don't want good people like the Haidls to be beaten on."
The San Clemente pot case isn't the only time Jaramillo allegedly interceded in a criminal matter for young Haidl. Jaramillo became the subject of controversy during the investigation of the 2002 videotaped gang bang of an unconscious 16-year-old girl in Haidl's Newport Beach house. Prosecutors claim Jaramillo advised the Haidl family not to answer their questions.
"I was not involved," Jaramillo told the Weekly. "I played no role. I played no part. I didn't talk to the boy or anyone else."
Along with Kyle Joseph Nachreiner and Keith James Spann, both also 18, Haidl now faces a March trial for allegedly raping and then sexually molesting the girl with a cigarette, Snapple bottle and a pool stick. Defense lawyers claim the girl consented to the sex before she passed out and the teenagers activated the video camera. All three teenagers face life in prison if convicted.
Downing, Hunt and Haidl did not respond to interview requests.
A transcript of the Oct. 26 telephone call between Sheriff's Sgt. Richard Downing and Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo after deputies found accused rapist Gregory Scott Haidl--son of Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl--"smoking pot" during a drug bust:
Downing: Hope I didn't wake you up. I wanted to catch you before you went to sleep, but I just found this out myself. I'm just giving you a heads-up that Don Haidl's son got into a little bit of trouble in our area in San Clemente. He and a couple of his friends were smoking pot behind some industrial buildings. He's been cut loose with no citation or anything. The sergeant is going to notify Chief Haidl right now about the incident.
Jaramillo: Which son?
Jaramillo: Okay. Ummm. He didn't get cited or anything?
Downing: No, we did not.
Downing: Yes, sir.
Jaramillo: The press will be all over this.
Downing: I know.
Jaramillo: So we got to make sure that this gets buried.
Downing: I know. That's why I'm calling you personally. It won't be put on the log or anything, and the chief [Haidl] is going to know. That's our little secret.
Jaramillo: So when he got stopped, where was he?
Downing: He was in an industrial complex in San Clemente. He and a couple of his friends were smoking marijuana. They had less than one ounce and he didn't want to give a lot of information. He told the sergeant and the deputy he lived in Rancho Cucamonga, but they found out he was staying with his mother in San Clemente.
Jaramillo: Uh-huh. Okay. So the long and the short of it is they did not arrest him?
Downing: No, they did not. But that was a decision made by Bill Hunt.
Jaramillo: How long ago was this?
Downing: This was . . . I just got the phone call five minutes ago.
Jaramillo: I'm going to call Don [Haidl] right now.
Downing: Okay. All right, sir.
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Source: OC Sheriff's Department
Photo by James Bunoan