Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hatch And Sharpnack Apologize - For What?

Monday afternoon, in a press release attributed to Costa Mesa CEO Tom Hatch and Acting Police Chief Rob Sharpnack, they issued an apology to Mayor Steve Mensinger, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilman Gary Monahan.  My question is - for what?  I was SO angry about this that I had to just walk away from the subject for a couple hours.  Then I wrote this...

Here's the complete text of the press release:
Joint statement from City CEO Tom Hatch and Acting Police Chief Rob Sharpnack on the Orange County District Attorney’s investigation into surveillance of councilmembers 
Posted Date: 12/15/2014
Recently, the Orange County District Attorney stated that the Costa Mesa Police Officers Assn. paid to have some of our elected officials surveiled in the months prior to the November 2012 election. We find this deeply concerning and will work vigorously to obtain and evaluate all information about the conduct of any involved Costa Mesa police officers, whether on or off duty, and to do so in a thorough and unbiased manner.

Close scrutiny is being given to whether, and in what manner, any member of the Costa Mesa Police Department had culpable knowledge of or aided in the surveillance of our elected officials, or engaged in any other violation of the rules, regulations and standards of conduct of the City and Police Department.

If warranted and in coordination with the District Attorney's Office to insure no impacts on its criminal investigation, an internal investigation will be initiated by the City and conducted by an independent party to provide all concerned with confidence in the completeness, fairness, and impartiality of that process. Strong and appropriate action will be taken if misconduct has occurred.

We are sorry that Mayor Steve Mensinger, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilmember Gary Monahan and their families were put in this unacceptable situation.

They are responding to a press release issued by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas last week, HERE, in which the arrest of two private investigators, Chris Lanzillo and Scott Impola, were arrested and charged with four felonies.

Nowhere in that press release by the OC DA does it name ANY member of the Costa Mesa Police Department or the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association as being culpable of ANY crime, although it does refer to the law firm the CMPOA hired to do "candidate research".  One could presume that if any member of the CMPD had been specifically implicated in the activities described in the OC DA press release they would also be charged with the crimes - but they were not.  I know several members of the CMPOA spoke before the Grand Jury and that an affidavit exists which refers to activities from that Grand Jury, although I have not personally seen the document.

What is very distressing to me is the willingness of Hatch and Sharpnack to ignore due process and assume that members of the CMPD are guilty - even though nobody has been charged with anything.  This stinks!  And, I find it oddly curious that Mensinger, himself, was guilty of hiring a PI to surveil employees he thought might be stealing his campaign signs.  That little activity cost Steven White his job with the city, despite the fact that he was acquitted of the alleged crime.  Talk about a double standard!

It seems to me that Hatch is skating on thin ice here.  Police officers are guaranteed certain rights under California Government Code Section 3300 - 3313, commonly known as the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill Of Rights, HERE.  Section 3302 (a) states: Except as otherwise provided by law, or whenever on duty or in uniform, no public safety officer shall be prohibited from engaging, or be coerced or required to engage, in political activity."  There's much more to that section of the code, which you can read at your leisure.

And, I'm concerned about just who's going to be doing this "internal investigation" Hatch refers to.  Will he contract with an outside police agency?  The Orange County Sheriff's Department?  Newport Beach Police Department?  Or, will he have members of his 5th floor hierarchy take a stab at it.

As one person commented in the thread on Bradley Zint and Jeremiah Dobruck's article on this issue, HERE, "It's a far cry from an alleged conspiracy to a conviction."  She reminds us of the many questionable actions these guys have taken and didn't even mention the more than 200 bogus layoff notices that generated a lawsuit that is still percolating in the system.


Then, during a pause, I found a Google alert that linked to Jordan Graham's piece in the Orange County Register, HERE, and my perspective changed dramatically.  That article refers to an affidavit, and quotes liberally from it.  Some of you may not be able to read the article because of the Register Pay wall, so I'll give you a taste of it.

It speaks of coded messages between investigator Chris Lanzillo and Dieter Dammeier of the law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill and Ethir, which had hired Lanzillo to perform surveillance on Costa Mesa politicians.  It documents the acquisition and placement of GPS tracking devices on two individuals, including now-mayor Steve Mensinger.

It talks of digging up dirt on Mensinger, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilman Gary Monahan and quotes from the text of the report about the possible tactics to be used.

It talks about raising dues for Costa Mesa Police Officers Association members to cover the costs of the investigations and contacts between CMPOA officers and the law firm on the issue.

I was distressed, figuring Graham may have misinterpreted the information, so I obtained a copy of the report to which he referred and read every word of the 27 pages - twice.  I am not a happy guy.

As I reviewed the report I just shook my head as I read the details of the investigation - search warrants for cell phone records, bank accounts and interviews with the parties involved.  I was stunned at the actions and words attributed to officers I've come to know, admire and trust.  I find myself wanting more information - more background - that would temper the appearance of this situation.

In Graham's article Mensinger is quoted thus: 
 “Its disappointing that police officers have become political operatives with a desire to ruin peoples lives in order to achieve additional pay and benefits,” Mensinger responded Monday. “It speaks volumes to the corruption and thuggery in the Costa Mesa police union. I have to believe that rank-and-file police officers, who are fine men and women, will find this every bit as displeasing.”

We don't have all the details yet, and I'm still willing to let this case run its course, but I now understand why he feels this way.  Members of the CMPOA are not talking on this issue yet, so we'll just have to wait to see if they can offer any clarification that will mitigate this situation.

And, as I pause one more time before finishing this entry, I reflect on the lives that have been ruined by actions this council majority have taken.  I recall the shell-shocked look on the faces of more than 200 employees on St. Patrick's Day, 2011 when they received those bogus layoff notices - the day Huy Pham leaped to his death.  I recall Steven White, who was accused of stealing campaign signs by Mensinger and a private investigator, arrested, charged with a crime, lost his job and then was acquitted.  His life was dramatically changed by the same man being quoted above.  And I think of the dozens of employees for whom city government had become such a toxic workplace that they just left, retiring earlier than anticipated or simply finding jobs elsewhere.

This is not the Costa Mesa I once knew.  This is not the town where I felt we were in good hands with the City Councils in charge in years past.  Today it's a town torn by distrust and divisiveness, where elected leaders overstep their authority with impunity and stifle dissent at every turn.  It's a town where employees cower at the thought of elected leaders prowling the halls at their workplace.  It's a place now where employees actively seek other jobs instead of pulling together to keep the City on an even keel.  It's a place where contractors manage operations rather than senior employees with broad institutional knowledge and a true vested interest in the success of the City.

This is a City upside down where the only department with a growing head-count is the Executive Offices!  This is a place where prison early releasees and homeless seek shelter, rehab homes proliferate, businesses are discouraged from reporting crimes or suffer fines if they do, and where our public safety organization is held in such disdain by elected leaders that they seem willing to place the entire city in jeopardy just to get back at the men and women who are hired to protect and serve us.

This is a City where we hire spinmeisters to paint a happy face on municipal dung heaps.  This is a place where we hire party planners to distract us from the important issues, then are aghast when events like the 60th anniversary celebration is beset with no-bid contracts, financial irregularities and other misdeeds that result in tens of thousands of dollars in cost overruns.

This is a city where elected leaders refuse to hear the voice of the people who overwhelmingly rejected a Charter scheme, so brought it right back for another epic fail at the polls.  It's a city where leaders bemoan unfunded pension liabilities, yet do NOTHING about it.  It's a city where it feels like we are being sold to the highest bidding developers, who line the campaign coffers of certain politicians, who then change the codes to make it easier for them to build more dense housing.  It's become a city where the elected leaders don't serve the residents - they serve outside interests.

It's a city where, because we failed to listen to the voices that warned us about this, we now have elected leaders and our law enforcement organization in what amounts to a battle to the death.  It is not a pretty sight and it doesn't have to be this way, but it will until the voters in this town start paying attention.  I do not condone the tactics used against the current council majority, but I understand them.  This city needs a change in leadership, but I don't see that happening for two years - unless one of the majority decides to bail out early.  Until then, I expect only more of the same, which might even include a move toward municipal bankruptcy.  Stay tuned...

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Blogger Joe said...

Lanzillo and Lampola will answer for any alleged crimes against council members.

But who will answer for the death of Huy Pham?

12/16/2014 06:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Its a little known fact that Righeimer also put surveillance cameras on the senior buses so he could monitor the employees. I don't defend the law firm's actions with the GPS, but its not the first time, and its not only them. Mensinger hired a PI to follow the city employees on their off time. He hired a PI to watch his signs, which cost an innocent man his job. So quit the 'woe is me' crap.

12/16/2014 07:53:00 AM  
Blogger zennymoon said...

I believed in the system, until now,. Now I question those people who are running the system, adjudicating the system, manipulating the system, making a mockery of the system, abusing the system and obliterating the system. Hatch and the acting chief, shut the "f" up and let the system play this out..as if any investigation you initiate will have any affect...if these acts were played out as alleged, I WEEP FOR THIS CITY AND ITS RESIDENTS

12/16/2014 08:45:00 AM  
Anonymous CM Resident said...

Keep apologizing and spinning Geoff. Cops are rightfully held to higher standards, and now we have evidence that some in CMPD have not been living up to those standards. If we have dirty cops, that becomes priority one. Go back to bashing Mensinger and Righeimer in another post, but STOP attempting to minimize the bad actions and actors allegedly contaminating CMPD.

WMC, I sure hope you aren't CMPD - even little kids know two wrongs don't make a right.

12/16/2014 11:39:00 AM  
Anonymous David on Lorenzo said...

Stockton had the chance to reform their pension obligations in their municipal bankruptcy, but they didn't. Detroit barely touched the pensions of their retired public safety workers. Major pension reduction via municipal bankruptcy is a political fantasy that's not going to happen any time soon.

In the meantime, the City of Costa Mesa is in disarray, public safety officers despise their city leaders, and we are less protected than we should be due to these wannabe "union busters."

12/16/2014 01:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Teresa Drain said...

I apologize for Geoff!!!!

Oh wait, I can't. No one has the authority to apologize for the words or actions of another. I am weary of being given hollow platitudes, they cover the truth and give a false sense of "win" where there are no winners. And they allow the lazy citizen a reason to "drop the ball" and stop looking for the truth. Some even wield the second-hand apologies like a club and dare to tell others to "get over it".

Cops are not held to a "higher" standard. We are all be held to the highest standard. Some jobs make you attest to minimum standards, take oaths to uphold, etc. It doesn't mean that the "regular" person should behave to a lower expectation. I expect the the most from everyone.

And lest anyone forget, this is Geoff's blog, his opinion of the facts he finds. I am grateful that he, along with others, take the time to attend all the meetings and to distribute information. It is up to us to separate the facts and opinion. It is up to us to continue to seek the truth, and to hold our brothers and sisters to the highest standards. It is also up to us to help them when they falter.

And, I am thankful for the words of others who post here, and I CAN separate their facts from opinion, and learn from both. In MY opinion!

12/16/2014 02:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

CMResident: No one said it was "right", just not the first time, or the only ones that hired PIs and followed employees. However, last time I checked, hiring PIs to do surveillance was not illegal. If it was, Rig and Messy would be in jail.

12/16/2014 02:24:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Can you link or post a copy of the 27 page report? (Or tell us how to get a copy?)


12/16/2014 03:25:00 PM  
Anonymous CM Resident said...

WMC, I think anyone expecting no PI surveillance work being done would be naive. The false police report and alleged lying by POA members are another matter.

12/16/2014 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger kwahlf said...


That's an excellent question!

12/16/2014 09:03:00 PM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

CM Resident,

Geoff, isn't "spinning" it's his blog, his opinion and I happen to agree with it.
If you don't like his opinion, don't read his blog.

12/16/2014 09:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Heart for Costa Mesa said...

Interesting sub-heading in Geoff's article. "Assuming guilt, tainting a jury?" The big attempt is to try this case in the court of public opinion and that just isn't right. Last time I checked this was still America.

12/16/2014 10:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Heart for Costa Mesa said...

You could call this the tale of two Steves - Don't forget that Steve Mensinger falsely accused Steve White of destroying a campaign sign, cops went to Mr White's house, intimidating his wife ( she felt intimidated) and scared his kids, Mr. White lost his job, his property was vandalized, he had to hire an attorney and defend himself in court, where he was found "Not Guilty". You think Mr White could be traumatized by all this?

The guy in the video didn't have tattoos on his legs and Mr White had had them for years predating the incident. Righeimer, Mensinger and Dixon all mounted a full court press to convict the guy in the media before there was even an indictment. A quick visual comparison could have ended the matter.

Why not check that out first? Or check for finger prints? Or why not run a facial recognition program? Because they couldn't give up all that free publicity and self righteousness. The whole scenario raises the question: Was that video staged?

I wonder what the legal consequences of framing someone with a faked video are.

Am I saying that there is no reason to go to court this time ? Not at all. May the truth come out and the appropriate measures be taken. However this turns out will be on the merits - or demerits- of the case itself, I hope. What I am doing is calling Mr. Steve Mensinger a hypocrite.

12/16/2014 10:32:00 PM  
Blogger zennymoon said...

PS did Hatch get any legal opinion on admitting liability along with his apology? Why are these allegations tried in the public at this time, when they are part of an ongoing trial. I would question, once again, the poor and lackluster legal representarion by the city. An apology, too much, too soon, too planned to attempt to verify the guilt and villify the association of the CMPD Assoc....this is a mess in the first degree...BUT this does not have me waivering in my support for our police dept in their dedication of doing their job....

12/17/2014 08:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Heart, you are correct. The first thing any attorney does is tell his clients to keep their mouths shut and do not discuss your case with anyone...ANYONE! So what does Rig and Messy do every time? Make a race to the press to blab about everything they know or don't know, in which case they accuse, and make utter fools of themselves with unproven accusations. They did it with the Steve White case, and look how far that got them.

But its okay if they don't because in the end, their big mouths will be their undoing.

12/17/2014 01:17:00 PM  

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