Archives for posts with tag: OC Register


Last week Fullerton’s contracted City Attorney Dick Jones announced during the Closed Session Report of a City Council meeting that financial settlements had been reached in two legal cases against the City of Fullerton.  The Rag has been waiting for some news about the  first case, Castaneda vs. the City of Fullerton, since we wrote about it last September.

New Lawsuit Against Fullerton Police Department Alleges Forcible Sex by Detective in 2013, September 16, 2014.

The suit alleged that a now former Fullerton Police Detective named Ronald Bair had demanded sexual favors from a woman in exchange for favorable testimony in her child custody case. The details of the case were very disturbing. The plaintiff reportedly felt compelled to comply with demands for sex by Det. Bair, who had investigated a breach of restraining order against her, because he had also offered to testify on her behalf in her child custody case. She later filed an anonymous complaint with the FPD, but claimed that FPD officers mishandled it by inappropriately informing Det. Bair:

“Shortly thereafter, detective RONALD BAIR called the plaintiff and threatened her and said that she was going to die.  It was obvious that he had been told, by the other defendants, about her ‘anonymous’ complaint about his conduct.  He told the plaintiff that he knew that she had a court hearing coming up and that the plaintiff would never see my daughter again.  He told the plaintiff that his police buddies would come after her.”

With a four vote majority, and one abstention, the Fullerton City Council agreed to pay the plaintiff $ 550,000.00. No details were offered about why one member of the Council chose to abstain from the vote, and since it occurred in Closed Session, there are no notes available to public to explain this strange action by a City Council member in a decision that involved over half a million dollars.

On July 23 the OC Register published a story about the case, written by reporter Lou Ponsi.

Fullerton is paying $550,000 to settle lawsuit involving cop accused of sex-for-testimony trade

In the article, Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz makes the claim that the “encounters” between Det. Bair and the plaintiff were “consensual,” and occurred while he was “off-duty.” Off duty or not, does it seem like a good idea for a police detective to be having sex with a crime victim whose case he had investigated and for whom he has provided testimony in a child custody case?

Mr. Ponsi then reports:

‘The police “fully investigated” Castaneda’s accusations against the former detective and then submitted a report to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the city manager said.’ And then, ‘The District Attorney’s Office declined to file criminal charges because of insufficient evidence…’

Well, there you have it. The police, who are alleged to have improperly informed a detective about a serious complaint made against him, filed their own report with the DA, who couldn’t find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

In the next paragraph of the Register’s report, Mr. Felz first states that the ‘“alleged inappropriate relationship” between Castaneda and Bair involved “two mutually consenting adults,” before crossing an ocean sized gap in logic behind settling a case for over half a million dollars to “to minimize legal expenses.”

If there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and the relationship was consensual, why is the city afraid to continue fighting the civil suit? Sure, lawyers cost money, and in the real world cities settle lawsuits to save taxpayers money all the time, but this time there is a $ 550,000.00 payout. That’s a large sum of money for what is effectively claimed to have been a non-issue.

$ 550,000.00 should also be more than enough to fund a Citizen’s Independent Police Commission. As we noted last September, an oversight board would have received the plaintiff’s disturbing complaints when they were filed, and investigated any alleged mishandling of it. Just having such a commission in place might alone discourage such behavior. Instead, a majority of the Fullerton City Council chose a periodic and incomplete independent audit model, citing the alleged cost of commission investigations.

(The Police Oversight Proposal Committee’s plan for an independent oversight commission can be found at this link:

As it now stands, we have no independent civilian oversight, and we have to pay over half a million dollars to settle a lawsuit over acts between a crime victim and a Fullerton Police Detective the City Manager claims were consensual. I wonder how the members of the City Council whose campaigns were backed by the police union, and later voted against a Civilian Police Commission, will explain that one to the people of Fullerton?

At press time Police Chief Dan Hughes has yet to weigh in publicly on the case, and it doesn’t seem to have made Behind the Badge’s Fullerton page…

Whiting Downtown Story

David Whiting has returned to writing for the OC Register in recent months, having left his editorial post there to once again publish a regular column. Thankfully, most of his musings have been about the outdoors or yacht racing or voting, and not his usual obsequious odes to local law enforcement.*

On May 5, the Orange County Register published a chipper little column by David Whiting entitled “Fullerton’s Lively Downtown is One to Envy, Not Blame.

Billed as “part of an occasional series on every city in Orange County,” it opens with a stroll through the streets on May 1:

“It’s Friday night before Cinco de Mayo in downtown Fullerton and despite much bar-hopping in search of legendary cesspools of booze, the scene is hopping in the best way.

The crowd at The Pint House is Greenwich Village-mellow with plenty of beer accompanied by plenty of food. The band at Ziing’s Bistro & Bar is louder than it is good – but, hey, it’s live music. A few women at Back Alley Bar & Grill argue over a point more fueled by alcohol than thought, but who among us hasn’t done that?”

And then, his kicker, which is probably meant as a playful rebuke: “Shut up, you naysayers complaining of rowdy behavior in the downtown. Fullerton has created what few other cities in Orange County have accomplished.”

It is tempting to just ignore such routine puffery, but there are serious implications to his shallow assessments of the downtown area. “Rowdy” is no joke to many nearby residents and business owners, who have had their windows etched or broken, or their stoops vomited on, or worse, since the Restaurant Overlay District went into effect years ago. Minimizing the impact of the seemingly limitless issuance of liquor licenses in an area already saturated with them is not so funny to many people used to the sight of inebriated young women in heels wandering unsteadily along sidewalks, or into bushes to be sick.

He also suffers from the delusion that it’s just a bunch of local college kids unwinding at night:

“As I walk along Harbor Boulevard poking my head into various clubs, it’s clear that the overwhelming majority of the crowd is made up of those (Fullerton College/Cal State Fullerton) students.” he writes, while somehow remaining oblivious to the ever present party buses that haul drinkers into the downtown every weekend from the Inland Empire and other locales. Remember, the Fullerton City Council actually banned food trucks from the downtown area at night because the police said they were attracting drunks who would get into fights with one another in the street.

His claim that patrons can get dinner after midnight is also a dubious one, at least. Most restaurants downtown stop serving after ten to become de facto clubs, whose drinkers spill out onto the streets throughout the rest of the night and into the early morning hours, when club bouncers have to herd them away from the sidewalks and into their cars by shining flashlights into their faces.

Perhaps if Mr. Whiting would stay out just a little later, even until 2:00 a.m. when the bars close, he would witness a less tranquil scene. Or, better yet, get up early the next morning to watch maintenance workers hose down the sidewalks after the evening’s revelries. It’s too bad newspapers can’t convey odors as well as they can print photographs.

His ultimate conclusion is that “…the mix of alcohol and darkness will undoubtedly attract a few party animals before last call…But finding a downtown alive at night is precious.”

It ought to be precious. The city’s redevelopment agency spent millions of dollars of public money paving and prepping the SOCO area for the thousands of diners and drinkers who patronize the restaurants and bars there each weekend, but Mr. Whiting ignores this fact. He also forgets to mention that a few years ago a report on downtown showed that it was costing taxpayers more to police and maintain the area than it was taking in. So, you may as well take his advice and enjoy it, you’re paying for the privilege anyway. Just watch where you step.

*(With one notable exception)

Stay tuned for Part 2…

Who wouldn't run?

Who wouldn’t run?

A front page story in the March 24 edition of the Orange County Register chronicles special training received by county police officers to deal with mentally ill people following the  death of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton three and half years ago.

(When Police, Mentally Ill Collide, Tom Berg and Lou Ponsi, Associated Press, OC Register, March 24, 2015)

Though it may be encouraging to read that “First responders at many departments in Orange County – and nationwide – are required to attend sessions where they hear directly from mentally ill people,” the article still conveys the subtle suggestion that Kelly Thomas is dead  because he was schizophrenic, and that if only officers had understood his condition, he might be alive today.

The article states that “Thomas, a homeless schizophrenic, failed to follow a Fullerton police officer’s instructions and was brutally beaten as he cried out for his father, asked for help, and complained that he couldn’t breathe.” Fullerton police officers were familiar with Kelly Thomas, and should easily have understood his confusion over orders to place his hands on his knees. And even if they didn’t, and thought he was just willfully disobeying their orders, they should not have struck him first, and should have been able to restrain him without the “brutal beating” acknowledged by the authors of the Register story. Is it for lack of training in dealing with the mentally ill that Manuel Ramos, Jay Cicinelli, and Joseph Wolfe no longer work for the Fullerton Police Department?

When we read that first responders ‘learn that what looks like “resisting arrest” from an officer’s vantage point may actually be abject terror from the suspect’s vantage point. About how that terror can infuse people with uncanny strength and resistance to pain as they attempt to escape, which can escalate a confrontation,’ we cannot help but recall the reaction of Kelly Thomas to the FPD’s Manuel Ramos’ alarming and inappropriate threats of immediate violence. Abject terror would be an understandable reaction by anyone, mentally ill or not, to an armed officer donning latex gloves and saying to them “These hands are going to fuck you up.” The mentally ill have no patent on “uncanny strength and resistance to pain” in moments of extreme stress, and needn’t be singled out as unique in trying with all their might to survive a savage, unwarranted assault by multiple police officers.

Few would doubt that police officers in heavily populated areas will inevitably have to deal with unpredictable, potentially violent behavior by people suffering from mental illnesses. And while Tom Dominguez of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs is right to state in the article that “It is unrealistic to expect officers to take on the role of social workers,” de-escalation of a volatile situation should be just as routine a strategy while contending with the ostensibly sane as it is with the mentally ill.

Training police to recognize signs of mental disorders among civilians is rightfully mandatory. They, and the OC Register, should also remember to recognize pathological violence used by law enforcement against anyone, mentally ill or not.

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