Emails: Police asked for dirt on O.C. councilmen

Costa Mesa police union suggested ways to catch councilmen in compromising positions, according to emails

In the months before the 2012 city elections, police officers in Costa Mesa mocked members of the City Council and suggested ways to catch them in compromising positions, according to emails contained in court documents.

The emails among board members of the Costa Mesa Police Assn. came as the union asked its law firm to hire private investigators to monitor three councilmen who disagreed with the union's political positions on retirement benefits and other issues, according to documents filed by county prosecutors.

In one email reviewed by the Daily Pilot, Officer Mitch Johnson — then the treasurer of the city’s police union — suggested telling the union’s lawyers about an upcoming city-sponsored trip to Las Vegas in the hope of catching them breaking California’s open-meeting law.

“I could totally see him sniffing coke (off) a prostitute," Johnson wrote of one of the targeted councilmen. "Just a thought.”

Two private eyes who had been hired hands of the law firm were arrested last week on suspicion of calling in a false DUI report against one of the council members and placing a GPS device on another's car and following him for weeks.

Police in Costa Mesa have tried to distance themselves from the 2012 incident and fired the law firm that employed the private eyes. But in emails contained in the criminal case, officers and ranking members of the police union are quoted suggesting clever way to catch the council members in compromising positions.

After being read the quotation from the email Monday, Councilman Steve Mensinger, who is now the city's mayor, said "It speaks volumes to the corrupt culture of our police union.”

The emails are included in affidavits in a criminal case the Orange County district attorney's office filed against two private investigators employed by the now-defunct law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, which was working for the police association at the time.

The police union isn't implicated in any of the illegal activity. But through grand jury testimony, witness statements, emails, call records and other evidence, the affidavit outlines the union's ire for Mensinger, then-Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilman Gary Monahan, who formed the council majority that at the time was trying to reduce police pensions and outsource City Hall jobs.

According to the affidavit, the association intensified its campaign against the councilmen in March 2012, when the union's board voted to increase membership dues so it could triple the retainer it paid to Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir.

Some of that money, prosecutors said, was specifically intended to produce "candidate research" that private investigators would compile through surveillance and other means. Soon after the increase, association board members started discussing ideas to damage their political opponents, according to the court documents.

In another email, Johnson called then-Mayor Eric Bever an "idiot" and suggested it's "time to expose his buffoonery and paranoia" by releasing more information about an internal police investigation that cleared officers whom Bever had accused of intimidating him while on the campaign trail. Bever said he had been given "the stink eye" by officers while placing campaign signs for Righeimer in 2011.

"I'm loving it," Johnson wrote about the council appointing Bever mayor. "There was no reason they put that idiot in that position. If they were smart or had common sense they could have made this a lot harder on us."

Johnson referred questions from a reporter Monday to the union's attorney, Paul S. Meyer, who issued a written statement: "The Costa Mesa Police Officers Association will continue to cooperate and support the D.A.'s office. CMPOA is not accused of any illegal conduct. They did not instruct, direct or know about any illegal acts by the Lackie firm or anyone hired by that firm."

Mensinger said the emails among police union board members regarding him and the other councilmen struck him as Orwellian.

"I think it raises questions in your mind — even though it's a small minority in our Police Department — whether the person showing up at your door really believes in the oath that he swore to," he said.

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