Reiff: DA Candidate Spitzer Sounds Off on Incumbent Rackauckas, OC Corruption, Wahoo’s

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer says the botched prosecution of confessed mass murderer Scott Dekraai is reason enough for voters to oust longtime county district attorney Tony Rackauckas.

“If a district attorney is prosecuting the worst mass murder in Orange County history and is systematically removed from that case for cheating and fabricating information and not turning over evidence … does that person deserve to get reelected? When OJ Simpson was acquitted in Los Angeles, the district attorney lost his job,” Spitzer said in an interview for the “Inside OC with Rick Reiff” public affairs program.

Next year’s DA race is shaping up as a battle royal between bitter political foes Rackauckas and Spitzer.

Dekraai pleaded guilty to killing eight people in a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011 but in pursuing the case the DA’s office and sheriff’s department became embroiled in a jail informant controversy that resulted in judicial reprimands, retrials, removal of the death penalty option for Dekraai, calls for Rackauckas’ resignation and even a “60 Minutes” expose.

Rackauckas has maintained that the “snitch scandal” is overblown and has defended his office’s actions. He has a standing invitation to appear on “Inside OC” but has so far declined.

Spitzer contrasted Rackauckas with Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who announced she will not seek reelection next year in the wake of the informant controversy as well as a high-profile jail escape: “She had the ability to understand that the county was more important than her political career.”

A former prosecutor, Assemblyman and reserve Los Angeles police officer, Spitzer has been tagged “Ready, Fire, Aim” for his brash style and pilloried as “Armed and Unhinged” on a Facebook page.

Spitzer brushed aside concerns over whether he has the temperament and judgment for the DA’s job, saying critics who have observed him in the “political arena” incorrectly assume “that skill set transfers over to district attorney… I have excellent judgment, I’m incredibly fair, I know the difference between right and wrong and I don’t have to cheat to get convictions.”

He said “the political elite” oppose his candidacy because “they’re so used to a county where political corruption has been swept under the rug … There are a lot of fat and happy politicians, a lot of fat and happy insiders, who don’t want a real prosecutor in this county.”

Spitzer defended his citizen arrest of a man in a Wahoo’s Fish Taco two years ago. Spitzer retrieved a loaded gun from his car and handcuffed the man, who he said was trying to evangelize him and acting erratically. Deputies answering Spitzer’s 911 call briefly detained the man before releasing him without charges.

“If I went in the restaurant and just split, I took off, left all those people … and he hurt people, you and others would say, ‘Oh my God, Todd Spitzer’s a prosecutor and trained police officer and he abandoned it because he was only thinking of himself.”

The county fought requests by Voice of OC for Spitzer’s county correspondence about the incident and attempted to depose Voice Publisher Norberto Santana. A judge ordered the county to release emails and pay the Voice $121,396 in legal fees.

Spitzer said the decisions on how to deal with Voice of OC were made by the county counsel, not him.

Spitzer addressed many topics in the wide-ranging interview, airing in two parts this week and next on PBS SoCal, KDOC and Cox. The first episode is also on YouTube. Show times are at www.rickreiff.com.

Spitzer criticized turf battles between sheriff deputies and county firefighters, notably over whose helicopters should respond to which calls.

“We need as many helicopters as possible (in emergencies). “Who cares if they’re green or if they’re red?” Spitzer said. “I’m looking at the sheriff’s department, I’m looking at the Fire Authority, and I’m saying, ‘Knock this off, we expect you to be professional.’”

Spitzer said inter-agency coordination, or lack of it, is a subject of an investigation into the public safety response to October’s canyon fires in Anaheim. The blaze torched 9,000 acres and destroyed or damaged some 60 homes.

Spitzer suggested that the state’s early prisoner release program and reduced sentencing have increased the “criminal element” among the homeless: “We can’t let that (Santa Ana) riverbed be Orange County’s skid row. I’m not going to allow it.”

But Spitzer said he has also promoted “empathetic and compassionate” policies to treat, shelter and assist the homeless, including this year’s opening of the 200-bed Bridges at Kraemer Place in Anaheim: “Nobody wants these shelters and I said, ‘Put it in my district,’ and it’s been a phenomenal success.”

Spitzer said the public has soured on law enforcement since he was a prosecutor in the 1990’s. A decade later he served two years as senior deputy AD before Rackauckas fired him.

“The juries loved us. They trusted us, they trusted the police officers,” Spitzer said. “I came back in 2008 and now jurors are telling me during jury selection, ‘You can’t trust police officers, they lie. The district attorney’s office, you know they cheat.’ I was beside myself.”

Spitzer, 57, said Orange County is suffering “civil unrest” similar to what he saw growing up in Montebello east of downtown LA: “We had riots in East Los Angeles in 1968 and we had riots in Anaheim in 2012 … We don’t have any particular ethnic group that’s a majority in Orange County and we’re now a melting pot and we’re having all of the same kind of social and urban problems that you see in big cities.”

Rick Reiff is Editor at Large, Orange County Business Journal, Host, Producer, “Inside OC” on PBS SoCal

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

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