By David M. Greenwald
Orange County, CA – Todd Spitzer keeps running the same campaign as though nothing has happened, which not only leaves serious questions about his office sitting out there but is tone-deaf.
One day after allegations that Spitzer made, at best, racially insensitive comments during a meeting to determine whether to charge a Black man who killed a white woman with the death penalty, Spitzer is putting out releases like it’s business as usual.
Spitzer said he is releasing an “explosive new campaign ad portraying Los Angeles as Gotham City” and “Spitzer is fighting back against failed pro-criminal policies that are destroying once great places like Los Angeles.”
While it always seemed like a strange strategy for an incumbent in Orange County to be running against the Los Angeles District Attorney, now it looks far worse.
“At its core, this election comes down to one issue – will Orange County remain the safest major county in California or are we going to fall asleep at the wheel and allow a Gascon clone to turn us into another Los Angeles?” Spitzer tweeted on Thursday.
Challenger Pete Hardin has already been attacking Orange County and its increased murder rate, but at this point the election looks like it will be a referendum on the incumbent, and the incumbent has some problems right now.
As reported on Thursday, a memo from now-fired prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh claims that Spitzer said that he knows “many black people who get themselves out of their bad circumstances and bad situations by only dating white women.”
Spitzer claims that the words attributed to him in the memo “were not correct.”
He told the Times what he actually said was that he has seen Black men date white women to “improve their stature in the community.”
How he thinks that’s somehow a defense is frankly beyond me. The worst part is that Baytieh, who engaged in egregious prosecutorial misconduct now appears as a strange sort of hero, blowing the whistle against Spitzer for his appalling lack of sensitivity in handling a death penalty case that oozes with racial questions.
As his opponent Hardin points out, even having a discussion about race during the consideration of the death penalty is extremely fraught.
Hardin argues, “The implication of these racist remarks extends far beyond the instant case.”
His release points to numerous studies that show defendants convicted of killing white victims are executed at a rate 17 times greater than those convicted of killing Black victims.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 75 percent of death penalty cases involve the murder of white victims, even though Blacks and whites are about equally likely to be victims of murder. A bias toward white-victim cases has been found in almost all sophisticated studies exploring this area over many years.
But it gets worse as a letter (link) surfaces from the Newport Beach Police Department to the Judge Gregg Prickett. In the letter, Court Depweg, the Acting Lieutenant of the Detective Division of the Newport Beach Police Department, details to the judge what has transpired.
Depweg writes that suddenly, after two years of working on the case, that on January 27, Deputy DA Eric Scarbrough informed him that “neither he nor anyone assigned to the Orange County DA’s Homicide Unit could speak to me or any member of the NBPD Homicide Unit regarding any matters involving Mr. Buggs’ criminal case.”
Scarbrough did not inform him why that was the case.
After a number of conversations, Depweg finally spoke with Deputy DA Porter by phone who just inherited the case and “had no idea how a homicide case landed on his desk considering he does not work homicide.”
“Porter advised me he had never seen anything like this in his career,” Depweg wrote.
Porter at that point advised Depweg that “the Orange County District Attorney’s Office would not be seeking the death penalty in the matter of Mr. Buggs.”
Finally, Depweg learned from multiple sources in the DA’s office that “in the matter of Jamon Buggs, the elected District Attorney, Todd Spitzer, made an unsolicited, derogatory and racist comment about Black men/ persons.”
He acknowledged he was not at that meeting and has no firsthand knowledge but he listed eight people who were there.
Depweg believed that he had “a constitutional duty as a member of the prosecution team to turn over to the Court and defense any and all exculpatory information that may be material to the case in chief. Mr. Buggs is Black. So if the elected District Attorney made a comment that is derogatory in nature towards Black men/persons during the death penalty review, then I believe the Court is the proper body to determine if discovery to the Defense is appropriate.”
In a statement on Thursday, Pete Hardin, Spitzer’s opponent, said, “Todd Spitzer’s racist remarks are exculpatory evidence, and his attempts to bury that evidence is the very definition of prosecutorial misconduct.”
He continued, “I commend Lieutenant Depweg for doing the right thing to notify the court in order to protect the integrity of the process and this homicide prosecution. Racist language like that used by DA Spitzer would land a patrol officer on the Brady list and effectively end their career, and it should absolutely end the career of Orange County’s top law enforcement official.”
The explanation given by Spitzer so far makes little sense and doesn’t change the substantial facts at this point.
While it is clear that Baytieh engaged in serious prosecutorial misconduct by withholding evidence in the decade old trial about informants, if he was fired for reasons that had to do with his becoming a whistleblower that creates a whole different problem.
Spitzer needs to drop the “not in Los Angeles” stuff and focus on his own job and his own work. In the end, the voters of Orange County are going to judge him on how he handles his own office, not how George Gascón handles his in neighboring Los Angeles.