Several family members of victims of Orange County’s deadliest mass murder are demanding that District Attorney Todd Spitzer resign, after previously supporting his election, saying newly-released video reveals Spitzer misled voters about cleaning up a corruption scandal that centered on their case.
At a rally Wednesday in front of the DA’s office, they called on the county’s top prosecutor to step down.
“We want Todd Spitzer to be held accountable. We want Todd Spitzer to resign. He doesn’t deserve that office. He’s a liar and a cheat, and he used me and he betrayed me. And I won’t allow it,” said Paul Wilson, whose wife Christy was killed in the 2011 Seal Beach salon shooting.
“Todd Spitzer ran on the corruption in the Orange County Sheriff’s [Department] and the Orange County District Attorney. And then we have him on camera saying, ‘Oh this was so unfair [to the prosecutors],’ ” said Bethany Webb, whose sister Laura Webb was killed in the shooting and mother Harriet Stretz survived after being shot in the chest.
“They cheated on an open and shut case,” she said of the prosecutors in the Seal Beach case, reiterating an appeals court’s findings of misconduct by the DA’s office.
In a statement responding to the rally, Spitzer’s spokeswoman acknowledged the prosecutorial misconduct in the Seal Beach case, but did not address Wilson and Webb’s criticism about Spitzer’s remarks on video praising the prosecutors’ ethics.
Instead, the DA’s spokeswoman asserts that Wilson is merely campaigning to help elect Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who originally exposed the Seal Beach misconduct.
“The misconduct engaged in by the Dekraai prosecution team subjected the victims’ families to unnecessary trauma,” said the statement from Spitzer’s spokeswoman, Kimberly Edds.
“It is a travesty that Mr. Wilson, who has suffered unimaginable loss at the hands of a criminal, is now campaigning on behalf of an assistant public defender who wants nothing more than to run for District Attorney so that he can throw the jail doors open and release criminals back into the streets without being held accountable.”
Wilson called the statement an offensive attack on his character that fails to address the “the real issues.”
“Never once have I said I am campaigning for Scott Sanders to run for DA. Never said that,” Wilson said in reaction to the statement.
“And I’m a staunch supporter of – if you break the law, you go to jail. You serve the time,” he added.
“If you’re in the DA’s office, and you commit perjury or malpractice or misconduct, you should be held accountable. That’s what I’m asking for – for people to be held accountable, not for the jail doors to fly open…I want accountability.”
Sanders said the statement from Spitzer’s office is “beyond troubling.”
“What a terrible state of affairs that when Mr. Spitzer is caught lavishing praise upon the prosecutors whom he claimed during his campaign had committed misconduct and embarrassed the department, his response is to level attacks upon a victim whose only error was trusting that Mr. Spitzer’s word meant something,” Sanders said.
“Spitzer’s message is that if you don’t close your eyes and support him even when his actions are unsupportable then you are an enemy of the state. It’s beyond troubling.”
Wilson supported Spitzer’s 2018 election and appeared in a campaign ad for him, but says Spitzer has failed to follow through on the reforms and law enforcement accountability he promised voters surrounding prosecutorial misconduct in the Seal Beach case.
The so-called “snitch scandal” resulted in years of delays in the 2011 Seal Beach shooting case, an appeals court declaring prosecutors withheld evidence and violated defendants’ rights, and led to the entire DA’s office being removed from being able to prosecute the confessed killer, Scott Dekraai.
Spitzer was elected in 2018 after criticizing the Seal Beach prosecutors in campaign ads and promising voters he’d restore integrity to the criminal justice system.
But a video – first reported by Voice of OC last week – showed that after Spitzer won election, he privately praised the Seal Beach shooting prosecutors as “honorable men” who care deeply “about the ethics of our profession” at their December 2019 retirement party. In the video, Spitzer said the prosecutors were “unfairly blamed” for what happened in their case.
Wilson said the video was the final straw that led him to call for Spitzer’s resignation and organize Wednesday’s rally.
“He lied to every Orange County citizen by telling them he was running as an advocate for the victims of Orange County, and to reform that office from the corruption that had happened under the last administration,” Wilson said in a phone interview earlier this week.
“Todd has failed miserably to do either one of those things. And those are his two big campaign promises.”
Wilson says Spitzer befriended him, used him for his campaign, and then betrayed his promises to the voters.
“Todd Spitzer was telling me what I wanted to hear, so I would befriend him, so I would allow him to go into court with me,” Wilson said at Wednesday’s rally. “It was always on days like this, where he knew the media would be there, and he wanted to be standing next to me in the media.”
During the 2018 campaign, a Spitzer campaign ad focused on Seal Beach shooting victims and their families being denied justice because of prosecutors’ misconduct in the case.
“We still haven’t gotten justice, because prosecutors abused the law” in the Seal Beach case, Wilson said in the ad.
“I’ll restore integrity to Orange County’s justice system,” Spitzer says at the end.
But after winning the election, Spitzer kept both prosecutors on, moved one into a management position, and said they had strong ethics and were treated unfairly at their retirement party in private remarks captured on video.
“I have nothing but respect and admiration for them,” Spitzer said of Dan Wagner and Scott Simmons at their retirement party as he stood next to them.
“There was evidence, in their case that they were responsible for, that came to light that had nothing to do with them. And they were really unfairly blamed,” Spitzer added.
“I know what honorable men that you are. And I know what great men you are. And I know how much you care about our practice of law. And I know how much you care about the ethics of our profession.”
Wilson says the video of Spitzer’s retirement party remarks shows Spitzer betrayed him and the public.
“It’s just disgusting. It’s the final straw of disgust I have for Todd Spitzer,” Wilson said.
Bethany Webb said the Seal Beach case revealed corruption by prosecutors extended to other cases as well, with 18 people released due to the scandal.
“They cheated on an open and shut case…eight white people dead in Orange County, with an open and shut case,” she said at the rally. “You think that’s something? How many brown and Black people have been shoved through their corrupt system?”
Wilson also has been critical of how Spitzer handled a scandal at the Sheriff’s Department, where deputies repeatedly made false statements in police reports about whether they booked evidence.
At least 32 separate criminal investigations of deputies have been turned over to the DA’s office for a decision on charges over the evidence booking scandal.
One deputy, Bryce Simpson, made false statements in 74 different police reports about whether evidence was booked, the DA’s office said earlier this year.
Under a plea deal with Spitzer’s office, Simpson pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor and will not serve jail time, pay a fine, or do community service.
“How does the top cop in Orange County not hold that person accountable for those actions? That’s the ultimate question. How do you not hold them accountable for that, and responsible for that?” Wilson asked.
“He’s failing to hold those deputies accountable, which is the same thing we had in the prior administration, which is the same thing Todd railed on Tony Rackauckas about: not holding law enforcement accountable and responsible,” Wilson said.
“And Todd’s not doing that either. And it’s clear that Todd has no intentions of holding anybody accountable in the Sheriff’s Department.”
“Somebody has got to step up and have a voice,” Wilson added, “and somehow make that office accountable for their actions.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected].