Newly released security footage shows the reaction of alarmed observers who saw last week's courthouse beating, but Orange County Superior Court officials say their cameras did not capture the beating itself.
The March 9 altercation between criminal defense attorney James Crawford and Dillon Alley, an investigator with the Orange County District Attorney's office, left Crawford battered and bloody and ignited a furor in the county's legal community.
In the 2-minute video, released by court officials Friday morning in response to a Voice of OC records request, a woman observing the scene rushes into a room to alert sheriff’s deputies, followed by a man in a suit who does the same.
At least 10 officers and deputies respond to the scene on the 10th floor of the Central Justice Center, with one later appearing to bring over paper towels to wipe up blood.
(Click the video above or this link to watch the video.)
But the cameras did not capture the actual physical confrontation itself, according to Gwen Vieau, the court's chief spokeswoman.
(Update – March 19 at 2:05 p.m.: Another angle of the hallway was recorded in an additional security video obtained by the Orange County Register. It briefly shows what appears to be people pulling Alley away from an off-camera Crawford, but does not depict the beating itself.)
The lack of video evidence, at least from security cameras, could make it more difficult to file charges in the case, given that there are now conflicting witness statements about what happened and who struck first.
Crawford’s side of the story is that Alley started the fight by calling Crawford “sleazy” and a “douchebag,” according to Crawford’s attorney, Jerry Steering.
Crawford said “fuck you” in response and began to walk away, but then the investigator threw a binder clip at the back of Crawford’s head, according to Steering. Crawford threw it back, and that’s when the investigator pounced, Steering said.
Alley slammed Crawford's head into a bench, placed him in a headlock and “pounded the shit out of him,” according to Steering.
Photos provided by Steering show Crawford with a swollen, purple bruise around his left eye, a bloody nose, and a blood-stained shirt.
Crawford’s account was “largely” backed up by two witnesses who were at the courthouse “on unrelated business,” according to KTLA-TV reporter Chip Yost, who said he spoke with the witnesses.
The first alternative narrative publicly emerged Thursday, over a week after the incident, when the DA’s office stated in a court filing that their investigator was only acting in self-defense.
“Crawford was no victim,” wrote Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Lockhart, according to the OC Register. “Investigator Alley responded in self-defense to Crawford’s hitting him in the face.”
The DA’s office claims Crawford hit Alley first, hitting him in the face with his hand. That led to a fist fight, with Crawford on the floor, hitting Alley in the torso as the DA investigator hit Crawford in the face.
The union for DA investigators, sheriff's deputies, and sheriff's investigators also disputes Crawford's claims.
"Defense attorney Crawford and his lawyer Jerry Steering have spent the last week doing their best to manipulate the media, the public and the criminal defense bar into publicly prosecuting a district attorney investigator based on wildly inaccurate facts," said Tom Dominquez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, in a statement Thursday.
The case was investigated by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and is now in the hands of California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office, which is deciding whether to file charges.
Meanwhile, an online petition demanding Alley’s arrest and prosecution, which was created by a local defense attorney, has gained over 1,500 online signatures.
The footage released Friday shows one end of the hallway where the beating took place, but does not show Alley or Crawford.
The camera has a clear view of the main elevator waiting area, meaning it would have captured Alley and Crawford on video if either used the elevators to leave the 10th floor.
But the footage cuts off only a couple minutes after the beating, with deputies still observing the scene, and no sign of either Alley nor Crawford.
A Voice of OC reporter requested the rest of the footage Friday morning, but court officials hadn’t released it as of Friday evening.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.