Orange County officials are set to ask a judge to let the public and victims’ families watch the usually-secret court proceedings surrounding whether the Orange mass shooter will be placed under a conservatorship after he was deemed mentally unable to stand trial.
Four people, including 9 year-old Matthew Farias, were killed by Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez in the March 2021 shooting at an office building.
Gonzalez, who was shot in the head by police, was committed to a state hospital last December and is now the subject of court proceedings .
Those are secret by default. But the county will now be asking a judge to open them up to being observed by the public and the victims’ families, following a request by DA Todd Spitzer and county Supervisor Don Wagner.
“We cannot shut out the victims from this ongoing proceeding, or the public – who has a compelling state interest to want to know what is happening here,” District Attorney Todd Spitzer told supervisors just as they were considering the item Tuesday at their regular meeting.
He added that the case is about “a mass murderer who killed four people, left one serious wounded – whose injuries to her head she will live with forever, lost her child trying to protect him.”
County supervisors approved the request with no opposition.
Senior Deputy DA Mena Guirguis, who is the lead prosecutor on the case, said the county would be requesting a Murphy conservatorship which makes sure the defendant remains in custody while medical professionals try to restore him to mental competency.
Conservatorship proceedings are generally not public, he added, but the law says can be granted if a judge finds “the public interest in an open hearing clearly outweighs” the individual’s interest in privacy.
“It was national news. It was heinous,” Wagner said of the shooting.
The request to publicly open up the proceedings “allows those prosecutors to participate on behalf of the public,” he added.
“It allows victims an opportunity to observe the handling of this case that is not just high profile, but so personal and devastating to them. And it allows them – where appropriate at court direction – to have a voice in how this case proceeds.”
Reports surfaced earlier this year that Spitzer’s handling of the Orange mass shooting drew concerns from prosecutors that he may have compromised the case by having a problematic conversation with a witness and then making misleading statements to a DA investigator that omitted important information about it from the defense.
At least three prosecutors raised alarm bells about Spitzer’s conduct, according to an internal DA investigator report obtained by Voice of OC.
Spitzer denied the allegations, saying his conversation with a grieving father was an innocent one, attacking back at the accusations against him as an effort by former prosecutor Tracy Miller to extract more money from a legal claim she filed against the County of Orange over the incident.
The internal DA document stated Spitzer’s conduct sparked concern not just from Miller, but from two other senior prosecutors at the time: Ebrahim Baytieh, whom Spizer later fired, and Tammy Spurgeon.
Miller later filed a legal claim saying Spitzer’s actions put the mass shooting case at risk – by talking to a victim without his attorney present, “discussing favorable treatment” with the witness in a separate case against him, and “seeking to withhold the true facts of that contact” by making “materially false” statements about it when interviewed about it internally.
[Click here to read the DA investigator’s report about Spitzer’s alleged conduct.]
In a statement to Voice of OC, Spitzer said his actions were completely appropriate and that he immediately ended the conversation once Farias mentioned he was being prosecuted.
“I am a victim advocate and I talk to victims all of the time throughout the course of my duties as District Attorney,” Spitzer said in the statement.
“This was an innocent and completely understandable interaction with a grieving father who unbeknownst to me also happened to be a charged defendant in a separate case,” he continued.
“As soon I was made aware of his pending criminal charges, I terminated the conversation and said I could only talk to his attorney going forward.”
[Click here to read Spitzer’s full memo, which is the last five pages of the document.]
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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