Sheriff's Letter Says He Paid for Home Security System


San Diego County Sheriff John Duffy said Tuesday that county-owned radios and weapons may occasionally be in his house but maintained that no county building materials or county employees were used to construct any part of the home or its security system.

Security measures at his new Scripps Ranch home were built "entirely at my personal expense," Duffy said in a letter to The Times.

Duffy also suggested in the letter that a Times reporter be held in contempt of court for writing him a letter last week requesting information about county equipment in his home. And Duffy repeated his contention that the newspaper's "intrusion" into his "defensive measures" was not newsworthy and threatens his safety and that of his wife, Linda.

Duffy's disclosures were included in a letter delivered to The Times and attached to legal papers he filed late Tuesday in San Diego Superior Court. The court papers detailed his lawyer's response to the newspaper's contention, filed with the court Monday, that a court order the sheriff won last week against The Times was an unconstitutional "prior restraint" on freedom of the press.

Duffy's attorney, Janet B. Houts, argued in Tuesday's court filings that Duffy has a "right to privacy concerning measures he has inside his residence to protect himself and his family" that outweighs any press freedom issues. Further, though many courts have ruled that restraints on the press are illegal, those cases don't count as precedents because no court has decided a case like this one, Houts said.

Lawyers for The Times have contended that Duffy's turn to the courts, besides being unconstitutional, is a "transparent political gesture" designed to prevent the newspaper from publishing legitimate information about his performance in office. Duffy has announced his intention to run next year for a sixth term.

The contentions on both sides will be the focus of a hearing today, when Superior Court Judge Jeffrey T. Miller is expected to decide whether to lift the extraordinary order he issued last week barring The Times from publishing information about security measures installed at Duffy's home.

That order was issued Thursday after Times reporter Richard A. Serrano asked the Sheriff's Department for information about a possible "safe room" in Duffy's house, stocked with weapons and other county equipment, such as radios.

In the event of an emergency--either personal or in cases of widespread civil disorder--the sheriff purportedly could go into the room and still be in contact with deputies, Serrano said in a sworn statement filed in connection with the lawsuit.

Serrano's calls last Thursday to the Sheriff's Department were part of a follow-up to a story he wrote and The Times printed last Wednesday, he said in his statement.

The story disclosed that Duffy has ordered his deputies from the Poway station to respond to emergency calls at his home, even though it is in San Diego and patrolled by city police. Accompanying the story was a map that showed the general area of the eastern end of Scripps Ranch, where Duffy lives, and its relation to the Poway sheriff's station. Neither his address nor pictures of his home were used with the story.

On Friday, the day after Miller issued his order, Serrano wrote a letter to Duffy, asking under the state public records law for information about "county equipment and property" that may have been used to build, or that may still be located inside, the sheriff's home.

Duffy's response to that letter--a five-page, single-spaced letter dated Tuesday, addressed to Dale Fetherling, editor of the paper's San Diego County Edition, and hand-delivered late in the day to The Times--was included in the legal papers Houts filed on Duffy's behalf.

Duffy said county communications equipment as well as "weaponry and implements of self-defense" might, from "time to time," be in his home or in the home of any assigned deputy.

The communications equipment, Duffy said, might include "pagers, walkie-talkies, mobile radios or mobile telephones in county vehicles." The county-owned weaponry, he said, might include "handguns, shotguns, rifles, automatic weapons, tear gas guns and grenades, protective vests, helmets, shields, batons, etc."

Any piece of communications equipment or any weapon that "has ever been in my home," Duffy said, had been "assigned to me personally" to help carry out his official duties. There was "nothing unusual" in having any of those items around his home, Duffy said.

As for any permanent installations, Duffy said no county employees or building materials were used to construct or install them.

If necessary, Duffy said, he could produce "canceled checks, contracts, work orders and billings to prove that security measures in my home were constructed entirely at my personal expense."

The newspaper's inquiry into those measures is "not a matter of public interest and seriously jeopardizes the safety of my family and me," Duffy said.

Serrano's letter to Duffy was particularly egregious, Duffy said, because Serrano included the address of the Scripps Ranch home in his request. The letter was hand-delivered Friday to a deputy at the sheriff's downtown office, and then to a Sheriff's Department spokeswoman, according to deputies' statements filed Tuesday with the court.

Though the restraining order says that "no information" about the "location, layout or configuration" of Duffy's home or his addresses may be "published or disseminated," Duffy said Serrano "deliberately violated" that order by delivering the letter to "third parties."

Calling that "misconduct," Duffy said a contempt citation against Serrano "is warranted." Duffy also said, however, that he would not pursue a contempt claim because to do so he would have to reveal the very security details he does not want to disclose.

Duffy blacked out his address in the copy of Serrano's letter that he included in Tuesday's filings.

Serrano, Duffy said, "long ago lost whatever objectivity, morality and integrity he ever had." As for The Times, the sheriff closed his letter by asking:

"You have already disseminated to the public at large information about where my home is located (including a map), who responds when my wife or I need help, and how long it takes to get help.

"That's bad enough, but don't you think that common decency and ethics should cause you to stop short of describing my internal defenses? Or are you looking for the big story after my wife or I have been attacked in the privacy of our own home?"

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