SEAL BEACH : Response to Police Criticism Assailed

Several residents have complained that the city failed to adequately investigate allegations outlined in a sharply critical Orange County Grand Jury report on the Police Department.

After hearing the criticism from residents, some council members agreed that further investigation is needed.

"We're not putting this to bed," Councilwoman Gwen Forsythe said, and Councilman Frank Laszlo said he feels that the city "should do some further investigation."

The city's response to the grand jury report, drawn up Monday while the council met in closed session, contained few specific replies to allegations of nepotism in the department, an unusually high number of stress-related disability retirements and numerous citizen complaints about officers' conduct.

But City Manager Robert Nelson defended the response as the only one possible to a grand jury report that he said lacked evidence to support many of its conclusions.

"Our response can only be as substantial as their report was to us," Nelson said.

At the end of the council's Monday meeting, resident Marie Antos said the city's investigation, which began after the grand jury issued its report in June, should have produced more.

"There's nothing in there," said Antos. "I would like to know what we got for our money. . . ."

City officials have long acknowledged that the nepotism allegations referred to Police Chief Bill Stearns and his wife, Michelle, who was shifted from a job as an animal-control officer to her current post as a Police Department court liaison shortly after her husband became acting chief in 1987.

But the council said in its written response to the grand jury that it could not take up the allegation because the couple were not identified by name in the grand jury report. The council will direct the city's five-member Civil Service Commission to investigate the nepotism allegations.

Carol J. Duensing, who headed the grand jury committee that prepared the report, said Tuesday that she was disappointed that the city's response did not deal directly with the alleged conflict of interest.

"When you have a spouse hiring another spouse and the salary increases and it goes into community property, that's a conflict of interest," she said.

Duensing also said she was disappointed that the city's response did not directly address the grand jury's concerns about citizen complaints of harassment, favoritism and discrimination by Seal Beach police.

At Monday night's council meeting, Seal Beach resident Barbara Antoci claimed that she had been repeatedly harassed by the Police Department following her arrest in 1988 after a fight with a neighbor.

Antoci's case is in the hands of the district attorney's office, Nelson said. As for other allegations of police harassment, he said, "we weren't given any specifics from the grand jury on any cases, saying here is where the city did not respond" through its normal process for handling complaints about police.

Nelson said the city was hampered in putting together its response by the vagueness of the grand jury report and the jury's unwillingness to tell city staff members how it arrived at some of its conclusions.

"It was impossible to get information from them," Nelson said, adding that grand jurors drew "a number of conclusions without verifying their information from other sources."

Duensing said the grand jury could not release much specific information to the city because it would have endangered the confidentiality of those who provided it to the panel.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World