Rebutting allegations that Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Brad Gates used his officers to harass political enemies, Gates’ attorney Thursday portrayed the sheriff as victim of a “vendetta” launched by “political opponents, by people who have tried and can’t get a concealed weapons permit, by people who want his job.”
The remarks came in the final day of arguments before a U.S. District Court jury in the $5-million lawsuit brought by private investigator Preston Guillory. Guillory alleges that Gates trumped up charges against him of impersonating an officer and carrying a concealed weapon, then had Anaheim police and prosecutors file the charges in 1985. Guillory was acquitted the same year.
Guillory contends that he was singled out by Gates because he was working for Gates’ former and prospective election opponents, who had filed suit against Gates for harassment. That case was settled out of court when Orange County paid $375,000 on Gates’ behalf.
At stake is whether Gates’ special intelligence unit had a justifiable reason to launch the investigation against Guillory. Gates’ attorney, Eric L. Dobberteen, laid out a series of charts for the jury to demonstrate that the investigation had been conducted with “common sense” and was “reasonable.”
He conceded that the sheriff’s investigator, Daniel Martini, had pressured some witnesses, but only in instances when he had been warned that a witness had been “secretive” or seemed to be holding back information.
“What’s wrong with that?” Dobberteen asked. “Isn’t that reasonable? What’s a cop supposed to do?”
He said that by the time Martini had assembled his case, he had found five “totally disinterested” witnesses who said Guillory had given them the impression that he was a law officer. Others had given Martini information indicating that Guillory had been carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. Guillory was, in fact, suing Gates at that time for refusing to issue him such a permit.
Dobberteen said the case was taken to the Anaheim city attorney for prosecution only because Anaheim prosecutes misdemeanors that occur within its city limits. The Guillory incident occurred at an Anaheim apartment house.
Paul N. Paquette, the attorney representing the city of Anaheim, also a defendant in the case, insisted that once the case was brought to Anaheim officials, it was handled with “impartial professionalism.” The Anaheim prosecutor ordered an independent investigation of the charges by Anaheim police and based his charges solely on the Anaheim reports, Paquette said.
He said Anaheim officials had no role in the controversy between Guillory and Gates, either before or after the investigation. “Claims that my clients conspired to ‘get’ Mr. Guillory . . . there is no evidence of that, none at all.”
Dobberteen attacked Guillory’s testimony that he had suffered financial and emotional setbacks because of the criminal trial he had to undergo.
“No doubt he was upset over the criminal prosecution . . . because he realized after operating this way all these years, he’d been caught,” Dobberteen said.
The charges stemmed from Guillory serving a summons on Richard Wilder at Wilder’s apartment in 1984. Wilder, an undercover narcotics informant for both federal and sheriff’s investigators, was a co-defendant with Gates in the lawsuit filed by Gates’ election opponents.
Wilder is named as a co-defendant in Guillory’s lawsuit, but his attorney, Timothy J. Stafford, argued that none of the charges filed against Guillory had stemmed from information from Wilder. Therefore, he said, Wilder could not be part of any conspiracy.
Guillory made repeated visits to the apartment complex, first appearing with an off-duty Los Angeles police detective hired for the task, then later with uniformed Anaheim police officers, whom Guillory had told that Wilder was wanted on a traffic warrant.
During one visit, Guillory persuaded an assistant manager to show Wilder’s tenant file and open Wilder’s apartment to make sure Wilder had not moved out without paying his rent. When the assistant manager opened the door, Guillory entered the apartment and examined a paper on the kitchen counter.
The assistant manager later told investigators he had thought Guillory was a law enforcement officer.
Dobberteen said it is plain what was in Guillory’s mind: Guillory wanted to get into Wilder’s apartment, and “he did it by making everybody think he was a cop.” That was the reason he hired an off-duty police officer to accompany him, Dobberteen said.
If Guillory had identified himself plainly and truthfully as a private investigator at the apartment, “they would have said, ‘See you later.’ ”
He emphasized Guillory’s remark when the assistant manager called Guillory afterward to say he was worried about opening the apartment to Guillory. The conversation was tape-recorded by the sheriff’s investigator.
Why would Guillory reply, “Don’t worry, David, it never happened. My memory is so bad on things like that,” Dobberteen asked. “If what he did was so legitimate, why say that?
“I don’t care what you think of Mr. Wilder, but he has rights too,” Dobberteen said. Guillory has a right to criticize Gates, Dobberteen said, but that is not a shield “if you’re doing something wrong.”
In concluding statements, however, Michael J. Cisarik, one of Guillory’s attorneys, again urged the jury to punish Gates by awarding punitive damages. “I think Brad Gates is the instigator and should have the biggest punitive damages,” he said.
He had previously referred to a financial statement filed in court by Gates declaring his personal assets to be $1.2 million gross, $716,000 net, and had asked jurors to “bite Gates big.”