New Call for Inquiry Into Death of Deputy : Law enforcement: Black community groups say federal government must probe unanswered questions about shooting of Darryn Leroy Robins.
Local black leaders on Monday reiterated their demand for a federal inquiry into the death of Sheriff’s Deputy Darryn Leroy Robins, saying the district attorney’s investigation has actually raised more questions than it has answered about the Christmas Day shooting.
Eugene M. Wheeler, a spokesman for a coalition of black community groups, said the lack of explanation in 13 important aspects of the incident is compelling enough to justify a full-scale investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The information we have, including information from the district attorney’s office, doesn’t answer questions as much as it raises them,” said Wheeler, who is president of 100 Black Men of Orange County. “How can we as intelligent people, whether you’re black, white, Asian or Latino, accept the mishandling of a serious case by our elected officials?”
In one of the strangest incidents in Sheriff’s Department history, authorities say that Deputy Brian P. Scanlan accidentally shot Robins in the head with his service pistol as they were re-enacting a traffic stop behind a Lake Forest shopping center.
Authorities said Scanlan’s 9-millimeter handgun was loaded despite regulations requiring that only unloaded weapons be used for training purposes.
Throughout the investigation, a coalition of minority groups, including the 100 Black Men of Orange County, have closely monitored the situation, questioning whether race may have played a part in the handling of the investigation. Robins was black; Scanlan, who remains on paid leave, is white.
These groups have pushed repeatedly for independent investigations of the shooting, and late last week they sent a formal letter to U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno asking for such an inquiry. Wheeler said an answer has not been received.
The repeated requests for federal authorities to step in elicited a swift response Monday from law enforcement representatives and officials who have been close to the Robins case.
“We conducted a fair, impartial and complete investigation of the matter,” said Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Maury Evans, the second in command of the district attorney’s office. “We presented the case to a grand jury. Our investigative files were made available to the public, and the file is also available for any other governmental agency that wants to review it.”
Although prosecutors said they requested that an involuntary manslaughter charge be filed against Scanlan because of gross negligence, the Orange County Grand Jury last week declined to indict the veteran officer.
At the behest of black civic leaders, Sheriff Brad Gates also asked the state attorney general’s office to look into the death independent of local authorities. The agency declined to do so.
“These people are never going to be satisfied with anything,” said Bob MacLeod, general manager of the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, which represents 1,300 deputies. “If Moses came down from the mountain and said that this was a fair investigation, that the shooting was accidental and that it was not racially motivated, they would argue with that.”
Wheeler responded: “Our dispute is not with the sheriff’s association. We have no intentions of being diverted by some statement that Mr. MacLeod might make. Our issues are not with him. They are much bigger than his organization.”
After local black leaders reviewed law enforcement records related to Robins’ death, Wheeler said, there were a number of questions that still need to be answered before any conclusions can be reached.
For example, they say, it was never explained why Scanlan, a training officer, was using a loaded gun for a training exercise; why he put out an emergency broadcast saying the shooting happened during a felony car stop; why a deputy “tampered” with evidence by removing and uncocking Scanlan’s weapon at the scene; and why investigators failed to properly check out a tip alleging that the shooting was deliberate and perhaps racially motivated.
Furthermore, Wheeler said that reports made available to the public do not contain the statements of a sheriff’s deputy who might have shed light on the relationship between Robins and Scanlan. The district attorney’s report notes that 12 of 13 deputies told investigators that there was never any tension between Scanlan and Robins.
“It appears there was a dissenting opinion,” Wheeler said. “We don’t know what he said, but it looks like there could have been someone saying something completely different than the other 12 deputies.”
Evans declined to comment on the coalition’s specific concerns.
Also Monday, black leaders renewed their earlier criticism that the district attorney’s investigation was not independent of the Sheriff’s Department. Records related to the inquiry show that sheriff’s deputies were allowed to sit in on virtually all the interrogations conducted by the district attorney, despite assurances by Gates that his department would remain removed from the investigation.
“This is compelling enough to warrant another investigation,” Wheeler said. “Because we now have information that we did not have before, our suspicions about impartiality have been confirmed. The sheriff and the district attorney are intertwined.”
Gates and the district attorney have said that the presence of deputies at interviews did not compromise the integrity or the independence of the district attorney’s investigation.