Local activists who set up a Facebook page poking fun at Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s ego earlier this year got the attention of nearly a dozen Orange County Superior Court judges last week when they emailed them a You Tube video of Spitzer’s bizarre interview with Sheriff’s deputies after he handcuffed an evangelist at a local Wahoos restaurant in 2015.
The incident is at the center of a open records lawsuit filed by Voice of OC against the County of Orange, currently being considered by OC Superior Court Judge Walter P. Schwarm.
We were all ready to hear Schwarm’s decision in the year-old case last week but instead Spitzer’s You Tube debut dominated the court session.
Schwarm advised both sides that he and other judges had received an email blast from the same email address, Tawd Spitzer, which I believe is associated with the Facebook page – Todd Spitzer: Armed & Unhinged.
The You Tube clip emailed to judges featured a telling interview between Spitzer and Sheriff’s deputies. It’s not clear how much Schwarm heard about the contents from other judges, but he announced he did not look at the email and deleted it in front of both opposing legal counsels in our case.
The edited video shows Spitzer’s interview with deputies moments after he handcuffed an evangelist inside a Wahoo’s restaurant as part of a citizen’ arrest while armed.
After interviewing both sides, deputies who responded to the scene, freed the evangelist.
The most telling aspect of the video, which our reporters have viewed in unedited form, is that Spitzer comes off uncertain as to why he decided to “hook him up,” as he described his actions against the evangelist.
In my opinion, it’s fairly clear from the video that the Sheriff’s deputies who interviewed Spitzer viewed his actions as unhinged. It’s also very clear to me, given the tone of their language on tape, that they didn’t see the threat that led Spitzer to leave a Wahoos in mid-meal, call police from the parking lot and then re-enter the diner before officers arrived and handcuff the offending evangelist on his own.
Watching the video also raises questions about whether deputies were really fair to the evangelist in their questions and investigation on the scene, given he was oddly handcuffed by a county supervisor who controls their department budget.
Given the fact that Spitzer is a key frontrunner to become Orange County’s next District Attorney, Voice of OC felt it was important to understand clearly – by examining all public records available – what happened that day in order to accurately assess Spitzer’s judgment and deputies’ reaction.
That’s why we filed our public records lawsuit – seeking an Op-ed that Spitzer sought to publish on the incident (offering his direct insights into his own actions at the time) as well as the email communications between Spitzer and the county’s public information officer that ultimately led to Spitzer killing the Op-ed.
It is our information that shortly after this incident, the evangelist was fired from his job with Boys Town, a local non-profit (and county contractor) that had its contract pulled and reviewed by Spitzer just after the incident. The contract was ultimately approved without comment from the board of supervisors.
Spitzer insists the two are not connected.
We want to verify that by looking at the emails sent between Spitzer and County staff to understand why that item was pulled and later approved without remark.
When a public official arrests a member of the public while armed, we believe it’s the role of the press to ask serious questions and assess relevant records no matter how hard it is to get answers.
Consider this point raised by the You Tube video, which piqued our attorney’s curiosity.
In Spitzer’s long court declaration (79 pages), he denies knowing anything about the evangelist’s connection to Boys Town.
Yet in the video, activists note the evangelist is wearing a Boys Town T-shirt.
Did Spitzer commit perjury in his declaration stating that he didn’t know anything about the connection between Boys Town and the evangelist?
That open question alone clearly demonstrates why public records are vital in this incident.
Even Spitzer, in his own public comments at the scene, can’t seem to remember what happened.
This is why it’s so critical for the public and reporters to have access to raw documents. It’s what really allows us to engage with our government on a level playing field.
It’s the only way to truly hold officials accountable and have the public stay in charge of our government.
Spitzer and other county supervisors in this case want to argue that they are entitled to secrecy in conducting the public’s business.
They increasingly just want us to rely on their word about what’s going in government.
Yet the preamble to our state’s open meeting law – the Ralph M. Brown Act – states clearly that the legislature and the people of California set a very different standard for those serving in public life.
“The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the governing bodies they have created.”