Attorney General Reviewing Possible Charges in Courthouse Beating

James Crawford, a defense lawyer, after he was beaten by Dillon Alley, a district attorney investigator at the Central Justice Center in downtown Santa Ana. (Photo credit: Jerry Steering)

The state Attorney General is reviewing whether to file charges following allegations that a district attorney’s office investigator attacked and pummeled a defense lawyer in Santa Ana’s downtown Courthouse last week.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department wrapped up its investigation late last week and “turned over all the facts information we have to the Attorney General’s office for filing consideration,” said Sheriff Lt. Mark Stichter.

Meanwhile, the March 9 incident has ignited a furor in the legal community, with attorneys signing a change.org petition demanding the arrest and prosecution of Dillon Alley, the DA investigator who allegedly attacked defense attorney James Crawford after the two hurled insults at each other. Alley slammed Crawford’s head into a bench, placed him in a headlock and “pounded the shit out of him,” according to Crawford’s attorney, Jerry Steering.

Many of the petition’s signers say the fact that Alley wasn’t arrested on site is proof of a double standard that shields law enforcement officials from accountability.

Alley started the fight by calling Crawford “sleazy” and a “douchebag,” Steering said. 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’s attorney Paul Meyer and the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, which also represents DA investigators, have disputed Crawford’s account of the incident but haven’t publicly offered an alternate version of events.

“The one-sided version currently being circulated is simply not accurate,” Meyer told the Los Angeles Times.

Photos provided by Steering show Crawford with heavy swelling around his left eye and wearing a shirt stained with blood.

“It’s very simple, if you say fuck you to a cop in front of a bunch of people… no cop in the world is going to take that,” Steering said. “If they didn’t have frail egos they wouldn’t be cops.”

A DA investigator beating a defense attorney is an extremely rare event – Crawford said he’s never heard of it in over 30 years of suing police agencies – but the incident is even more high-profile because Crawford recently managed to have a murder conviction overturned as a result of the ongoing jailhouse snitch scandal.

The change.org petition has called for Alley to be arrested and prosecuted for “felony assault.” It accuses the DA’s office of having a culture that allows abuse of criminal defendants and intimidation of their attorneys. And the perception of a double standard is a common thread in the comments from many of the 1,351 signers to the petition.

“Had Mr. Alley been a public defender Iinvestigator and attacked a prosecutor, we can be reasonably certain that he would have been arrested immediately,” reads the petition started by Irvine-based attorney Andrew Levine. “It’s time to hold the employees of prosecution to the same standards.”

Steering agreed that, had the tables been turned, Crawford would have been arrested and charged immediately. The investigator is a peace officer and seen by the police as one of their own, he said. And he claims to have taken thousands of depositions of police officers in which they say they wouldn’t arrest their partner even if he or she committed a crime.

However, a spokesman with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and an expert on policing said things aren’t often as cut and dried as Crawford and his attorney claim.

“It’s about gathering all of the facts and information, that’s how any investigation is looked at. Sometimes all those facts and investigation are gathered at the time the incident occurred, sometimes a little later on,” said Stichter, the sheriff’s spokesman.

Curtis Cope, a retired lieutenant from the Huntington Beach Police Department and a police training consultant, said whether officers would have arrested Alley at the time depends on a number of factors.

First, it is important to know whether an-duty officer with jurisdiction over the courthouse witnessed the incident; and whether Crawford asked for the investigator to be prosecuted, Cope said.

Steering acknowledged that Crawford did not demand that Alley be arrested. But, he said, it was Santa Ana police and sheriff’s department investigators who pulled Alley off of his client. It was also reported that there were witnesses who fingered Alley as the aggressor.

“They just don’t do [make the arrest] because they’re cops,” Steering said. “Who is going to make them? Pope Francis?”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek