A dawn search of Assemblyman Scott Baugh's home by the district attorney's office touched off a furor Friday, as his lawyer charged that an investigator wrestled and knocked down the Huntington Beach Republican, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher described the incident as the work of "goons."
Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), Baugh's mentor, called the search a "home invasion assault." Declaring that "the D.A. has absolutely gone berserk," he demanded the resignation of Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi, a Republican who has held the office since 1989.
District attorney's officials rejected the Baugh camp's version of events. "There was no wrestling at all, and all the physical obstruction came" from Baugh, who was "rude, uncooperative . . . and somewhat obstructive," said Loren DuChesne, chief of the district attorney's bureau of investigation.
"My people conducted themselves in an utterly professional manner," he said. Baugh never fell, nor was he pushed to the ground, DuChesne said.
Six investigators from the district attorney's office executed a search warrant approved by a Superior Court judge, combing through Baugh's home for 2 1/2 hours Friday morning.
Baugh is being investigated by the district attorney's office for alleged campaign finance irregularities in last month's special election in the 67th Assembly District. The district attorney's office also is investigating his links to the candidacy of Democrat Laurie Campbell, who was removed from the ballot by a Sacramento Superior Court judge for filing falsified nomination papers.
Baugh hastily called a news conference outside his 17th Street home to denounce the district attorney's actions, then failed to appear.
One by one, friends and supporters stepped forward to deliver secondhand accounts of the confrontation. But Baugh remained on the other side of his door, unavailable to reporters.
Between Baugh and reporters was a phalanx of young supporters in blazers and polished shoes, their folded arms and pursed lips suggesting the gravity of the situation. They did not address the press either.
For several hours before and after the news conference, Baugh supporters denounced the morning raid in faxes and phone calls to the media.
Baugh said through several spokesmen at the news conference that he was in the shower when investigators knocked on his door at 7 a.m. He accused them of seizing personal documents outside the scope of the warrant--including his tax returns--and preventing him from dressing in private during the search.
"Scott got a camera and was taking pictures of them and of what they were doing," attorney Ronald G. Brower said in a morning telephone interview. "They took exception to that and told him they were going to seize the camera and that it was evidence."
Baugh did not surrender the camera, and "got into a wrestling match [over it] and one of theinvestigators threw him against the door and onto the floor," Brower said.
Brower quoted Baugh as saying: "They are a bunch of thugs. They were acting like thugs."
Contending prosecutors lacked evidence to tie Baugh to any illegal act, Brower said, "The search warrant comes at a late date and supports that conclusion."
Rohrabacher described the raid as retaliation by Capizzi against Baugh and GOP conservatives, who this week asked for a criminal investigation of irregularities in Capizzi's 1990 and 1994 nominating papers. Capizzi referred that request to state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren's office, where an official said Friday there were no violations of the law.
"No criminal conduct occurred," said Gary Schons, senior assistant attorney general.
Rohrabacher said of the district attorney's reaction to criticism: "The D.A. has absolutely gone berserk. The D.A. gets criticism and he throws goons into your living room. This is reminiscent of the way Nazis and gangsters act."
District attorney's officials called the charges a diversion and defended the search, which encompassed Baugh's garage and home. "We sent enough people to do it quickly," DuChesne said.
DuChesne said the physical confrontation with Baugh occurred toward the end of the search, when boxes were being carried out and "he got in their way" while taking pictures.
Baugh was "agitated and was rude and got up close to them and was rummaging through the evidence," he said. "They asked for the camera in order to stop the minor obstruction."
At that point, Baugh "pushed by [the investigators] and went in the house and they allowed him to do it," said DuChesne, describing that as the extent of the physical contact.
Baugh "absolutely did not" fall to the ground, he said, adding "I think [investigators] used good judgment" in letting him go back in the house and not pursuing Baugh "for any delay or obstruction."
Rohrabacher has admitted his campaign manager was "peripherally" involved in the effort to undermine the candidacy of Linda Moulton-Patterson, the other Democrat in the race to replace recalled Assemblywoman Doris Allen. Assembly GOP Leader Curt Pringle of Garden Grove has also acknowledged an aide in his office circulated nominating petitions for Campbell.
Meanwhile, an official close to the investigation said Friday that the Baugh-Campbell inquiry will be handed off to the grand jury whose term begins Jan. 1, because there are too many witnesses for the current panel to hear before its term runs out next week. Two witnesses appeared before the grand jury this week, the official said.
Prosecutors declined to discuss the events unfolding before the grand jury, and would not say what was seized nor whether other locations were searched.
"We are looking into serious violations of the campaign laws and seized evidence relevant to those," said Assistant Dist. Atty. John Conley. "It was not a fishing expedition.
"If the politicians want to try this in the newspapers, they can," he said. "We are not going to."
Conley said searching an elected official's home is a relative rarity only because there are 12,000 felonies in the county a year and "political crimes are a tiny number."
But, he said, the prosecutors must "persuade a judge that there is probable cause for thinking that documents relating to the investigation are present in the residence as opposed to some other location."
The office does not extend special courtesy to elected officials, he said.
"We rarely in a criminal investigation call ahead and ask someone's lawyer to handle the gathering of evidence," he said. "We cannot be so trusting."
Outside Baugh's home, however, his supporters were labeling the early morning raid outrageous.
With Baugh unavailable, one of those who spoke was the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, who was nowhere near the neighborhood at 7 a.m. But he invoked images of the Gestapo in denouncing the tactics of "Mr. Capino."
Reporters quickly corrected Sheldon, telling him the district attorney' name is Capizzi.
"I'm so upset," Sheldon said, "I can't say his name!"
Also present was Abdo Zeidan, owner of nearby Ocean Pacific Market, who contributed $11,200 to the Baugh campaign during the election. The entrepreneur gave an account of the morning's events observed, he acknowledged, from 40 feet away.
"They just pushed him, had him down," Zeidan said, posing against the stucco wall of Baugh's house, like a man about to be frisked.
When Baugh came to his market for help, Zeidan said, "he was covered with stucco."
"I helped him clean it off," he said.