ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : The Big Cost of Big Mistakes

Since the fatal shooting of a sheriff's deputy by a fellow officer during an impromptu training session two years ago, there have been many twists in the road to resolution. The latest was an assertion by the attorney of the victim's family that a claim against the county was being settled for $10 million, a figure disputed Tuesday by county officials.

Previously, the Orange County district attorney found that the shooting of Darryn Leroy Robins on Christmas Day 1993 was the result of "grossly negligent" use of a loaded pistol. But instead of filing charges in the case, prosecutors turned the matter over to a grand jury, which decided against an indictment. A Justice Department investigation turned up no violations of federal law. Officer Brian P. Scanlan, who fired the fatal shot in what he said was an accident, has left the force on a disability claim.

With no federal finding of wrongdoing and no indictment, $10 million would have been a very high price for a bankrupt county to pay to avoid a legal battle. The county says it will pay out about $2 million now and part of that will go for an annuity that eventually could produce a total of about $5 million for family members.

The Sheriff's Department may end up being spared further embarrassment, but there are aspects of the proposed settlement that need to be addressed. For example, there is some question whether the facts support a multimillion-dollar claim, especially in the absence of a lawsuit by the Robins family. Moreover, the county did not direct the family to pursue a workers' compensation claim, a routine procedure in such cases.

It is clear that at the heart of this matter was a serious violation of departmental training policy that created a tragedy for a family. As it happened, nobody on either side was interested in going to court to determine the county's liability. However, a three-member committee of Orange County officials ought to review the terms of the proposal carefully before signing off.

We hope the county comes away wiser for the experience, recognizing just how costly mistakes can be to lives and to the public coffers.

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