The San Bernardino County district attorney, using agents on loan from the state attorney general's office, has begun a criminal investigation of San Diego lawyer Alex Landon's alleged role in a 1972 Chino prison break that led to the murder of a guard, officials said Wednesday.
The investigation of Landon, who directs an agency that is scheduled to receive a $40-million San Diego County contract to provide legal defense for indigents, was prompted by Assemblyman Larry Stirling (R-San Diego), who has tried for more than a year to reopen the case after learning that Landon might have been involved.
San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Dennis Kottmeier said the Landon matter was referred to his office by Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, who was asked to investigate by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Prison Construction and Operations, of which Stirling is vice chairman.
State Help Solicited
But Kottmeier said he in turn asked the state to help because his 13 criminal investigators had their hands full with active cases in his county.
"We will make the decision whether to file or not to file, but they are doing the work to get us to the position where we can make a decision," Kottmeier said.
Chief Assistant Atty. Gen. Steve White said his office will supply "whatever is necessary" to help Kottmeier complete the investigation. But he said control over the case is properly with a county prosecutor's office.
"This is the province of local government, as opposed to the state," White said. "There are prosecutorial decisions implicit in such an investigation. If at all possible, those decisions should be made by the district attorney."
Kottmeier said he does not know how long the investigation will take.
The prison committee's request came after the panel examined telephone records, transcripts from a 1973 murder trial and other evidence that could link Landon to Ronald Beaty, a prisoner who escaped from the California Institution for Men at Chino on Oct. 6, 1972. One guard was shot to death in the escape and another was wounded.
No Blades Were Found
Beaty testified in 1973 that Landon had smuggled hacksaw blades to him and had carried plans for the escape out of the prison. In the months preceding the breakout, 39 phone calls were placed to Landon's home and office from those involved in the escape; on the night of the escape, the fugitives placed a person-to-person call to Landon's home.
However, no hacksaw blades were used in the escape, and the blades were never recovered at the prison. Beaty testified that Landon did not know he was ferrying escape plans when he carried a sealed envelope out of the prison.
After an investigation in 1973, the San Bernardino district attorney decided against criminal charges.
Landon, who was representing Beaty in a civil rights matter at the time, denies any involvement in the escape.
'Do What They Have to Do'
"My position has always been that I did not do anything wrong, and so they must do what they have to do," Landon said. "I've been waiting anxiously to see if there is anything new beyond that which was available in 1973 and 1974, and no one has shown that to me."
Landon was banned from visiting state prisons in 1973, and that prohibition is still in force. Stirling has said the ban should be justified by the state Corrections Department or lifted in light of Landon's role as executive director of Community Defenders Inc., which is scheduled to receive a contract to provide legal defense for county defendants too poor to pay for their own representation.
Stirling said Wednesday that he had "no reaction" to news of the investigation other than to say that he would have stood by whatever decision Kottmeier made.
"The decision of whether to do any further investigation is solely up to the district attorney's office," Stirling said. "As a legislator, I am not in any position to comment one way or another."
In a related development Wednesday, E. Miles Harvey, chairman of the board of Community Defenders, said former U.S. Atty. Terry Knoepp has completed his investigation for the board and will forward it to Harvey on Friday. Harvey said the full board will probably meet in a special session Monday to review the report and decide what action to take, if any.
"I don't believe Terry has found anything new that was not known in 1972," Harvey said. "I think he has talked to people who were not interviewed in 1972. What his conclusion will be, I simply do not know. We employed him because of his independence, and we have stayed away from his investigation."
A spokeswoman for the California State Bar said Wednesday that the organization had not yet decided what action to take on the legislative committee's request that the bar also investigate the Landon matter.