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Grand Jury Alters Tack of Inquiry in Slaying by Deputy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three months after the district attorney’s office said it would assist the county grand jury in a combined investigation of Jeffrey Bray’s shooting death by a sheriff’s deputy, the grand jury said it wants the district attorney to conduct a criminal investigation on its own.

In early September, Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller said his criminal probe and review of the Bray shooting--in which Deputy John Wickham shot Bray as he backed his truck toward a patrol car--would be done with the county grand jury to avoid duplication.

On Wednesday, Reno J. Testolin, the grand jury’s foreman, said the grand jury will continue to investigate “civil aspects” of the case. Civil aspects could include a probe of Sheriff’s Department administrative procedures or other ways the Bray matter could have been handled better. Testolin said the grand jury had asked the district attorney’s office to proceed with its criminal investigation.

Testolin did not say why the grand jury had decided to change course, other than to remark that “it would be more appropriate to follow past practice” in having the district attorney’s office issue a separate report on the criminal investigations.

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He also would not comment on why it took three months for grand jurors to change their minds.

By law, the 19-member grand jury can reconvene to hear criminal investigations presented by the district attorney to determine whether indictments are warranted. Testolin would not say if that process would be followed in the Bray case.

“We’ll continue to investigate,” Testolin said. The district attorney “will look at criminal aspects and we’ll look at the civil aspects.”

Steve Casey, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said Miller has no problem with following the grand jury’s recommendation.

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“It means that the investigation comes back to us,” he said. “We thought it would be more efficient to do one review, but they want us to conclude our review and then take it up fresh. We’ll conclude our inquiring and go on the course they set.”

The district attorney’s investigation will probably be concluded by mid-January and be turned over to the grand jury, Casey said.

Wickham shot Bray in Vista on May 18 about an hour after he left his job as a construction worker. Wickham and deputy William C. Fewell had followed Bray into his Vista apartment complex thinking--erroneously, it turned out--that Bray was driving a stolen vehicle.

A witness said Bray had stopped his vehicle to talk to him and didn’t know the patrol car was behind when he backed up to talk.

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Less than a week after the shooting, county supervisors asked the grand jury to investigate. Testolin said he didn’t know exactly when the matter would be resolved.

The FBI is still awaiting word from the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington about whether to file federal charges.

In June, Bray’s widow, Lena, filed a $3.5-million suit against the county, alleging that Bray was mistakenly pursued and erroneously shot. The suit said the deputies never identified themselves. Lena Bray’s attorney, Gerald Davee, did not return a call about Wednesday’s developments.


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