COUNTYWIDE : Lawmen Give Gates Vote of Confidence

The Orange County Chiefs' and Sheriff's Assn. has given Sheriff Brad Gates a vote of confidence in the wake of a $246,000 verdict awarded to two private investigators who alleged that the sheriff's gun-permit process was unfair and riddled with cronyism.

In a letter to the Board of Supervisors dated Oct. 8, the organization, with members from 45 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, wrote that it supports the way the Sheriff's Department grants the right to carry a concealed weapon.

"It is our desire that Sheriff Gates continue to administer the concealed weapons permit process as he has done since 1975, and we wholeheartedly support his criteria for issuance and denial of concealed weapons permits," the letter said.

The group wrote that the department's decision to deny gun permits to two Orange County men who won the lawsuit was proper and complied with state law regulating the right to carry a concealed weapon.

Two weeks ago, a federal jury awarded Frank Ritter of Huntington Beach and his brother, Ty, of Irvine $246,000 in damages and concluded that Gates acted with "reckless disregard" toward their constitutional rights. Both had been denied gun permits repeatedly from 1975 to 1980.

The jury's conclusion means that Gates could be subject to additional punitive damages that, if assessed by the jury, would have to be paid by the county or the sheriff personally. A court hearing to determine those damages is scheduled for mid-November.

Association President and Laguna Beach Police Chief Neil J. Purcell, who wrote the letter, noted "that any decision made by a law enforcement administrator can be challenged and judged in a different manner."

Purcell urged the Board of Supervisors to back the sheriff if punitive damages are assessed. "When you are trying to do a job in good faith and then you make that person personally responsible, that is not right," Purcell said Monday.

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