Former Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Scanlan said Friday that although he is thankful that he will not be prosecuted for the 1993 shooting death of his partner, he has accepted the fact that some people will never believe it was accidental.
“I’ll never get over it. There still isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about it,” said Scanlan in a telephone interview from Rio Rico, Ariz., where he works as a private investigator at a security firm owned by his father.
Scanlan’s partner, Deputy Darryn Leroy Robins, was shot and killed on Christmas Day, 1993, during an impromptu training exercise behind a Lake Forest movie theater. Robins, who was playing the role of a gang member during a traffic stop, was shot once in the face when he suddenly produced a hidden pistol.
Scanlan, 33, said he was startled by the sudden appearance of the weapon and fired his 9 mm pistol accidentally. Although Sheriff Brad Gates said the shooting was a violation of the department’s training policies and the District Attorney said Scanlan acted in “gross negligence,” a county grand jury refused to indict him on a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Critics in the Latino and African-American communities charged that the local investigation was improperly handled and questioned whether the shooting was motivated by race. Scanlan is white and Robins, 30, was black.
The case was then investigated by the FBI to determine if Robins’ civil rights were violated. On Thursday, U.S. Justice Department officials declined to prosecute Scanlan because of insufficient evidence.
Local law enforcement officials welcomed the Justice Department’s decision and expressed hope that the wounds opened by the tragedy can begin to heal.
“I’m happy. Nobody wants to be prosecuted,” Scanlan said. “But there could never be complete closure for me. However, I can at least stop looking over my shoulder.”
Scanlan said the shooting, which occurred exactly three months after his wedding, contributed to the breakup of his marriage less than nine months later. According to Scanlan, he and his wife are waiting for their divorce to become final. His wife, who is an employee of the Sheriff’s Department, could not “understand that this was an accident,” he said.
“This thing changed our lives. It changed our marriage,” Scanlan said. “Some people will understand it was an accident, but still not understand it fully. My wife is one of them. I don’t want to say this was the only reason for the breakup, but it probably had a lot to do with it.”
The former deputy said that he has made peace with Robins’ widow, Rosemary. According to Scanlan, Rosemary Robins contacted him three days after the shooting and told him she believed the shooting “wasn’t intentional.”
“I fully believe she has no animosity toward me,” he added.
Scanlan said that critics who have accused him of being racist and believe the shooting was racially motivated “are stupid.
“To blindly make racial accusations about this thing is stupid,” he said. “People can be of different color and still work together and be friends. These accusations are keeping racism alive. I am not a racist and never will be.”
The slain deputy’s mother, Mildred Fisher, alleged in a claim against the county that Scanlan violated her son’s civil rights and that he had a history of reckless and racial conduct.
“I’ve never met Mildred, but she’s got a right to be mad at me,” Scanlan said. “I understand why she’s angry, and I would never say anything derogatory about her. I have to live with the fact that some people will never care for me because of this incident.”
During the interview, Scanlan declined to discuss the shooting itself. However, he said that “Darryn and I were exceptionally close” and had become good friends during the five years they worked together.
Robins grew up in a predominantly black area in Los Angeles and Scanlan grew up in a white neighborhood in Long Beach, but the two men easily transcended the differences in their backgrounds, Scanlan said.
“People keep wanting to present this as a black-and-white issue, but all the time it was only a green [uniform color] issue,” he said.
Scanlan said he was so sure that prosecutors were going to determine the shooting was accidental that he agreed to be interviewed by the district attorney’s investigators without an attorney present.
“I was the only one who knew what happened,” he said. “I was the only one fortunate enough to walk away. . . . I decided I would give that interview freely and would be as honest as possible.”
Scanlan, who retired from the Sheriff’s Department on disability and moved to Arizona about a year ago, said he has returned to California several times. Each time he returns to Southern California he wrestles with the thought of visiting Robins’ grave, he said.
“I want to go, but I don’t do well at cemeteries,” he said. “Darryn’s physical remains might be there, but I’m a firm believer in heaven and I know Darryn is in a good place.”