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Soft or hard bop? Either way, whack is a hit with viewers

Times Staff Writer

One thing is certain: Carson Public Works Commissioner Jan Schaefer got bopped on the back of the head with a bunch of papers.

That’s on tape.

She didn’t get hit in the eye, as Mayor Jim Dear was quick to claim.

But was the blow enough to send her reeling to the floor in apparent agony? Or was her fall spur-of-the-moment melodrama?

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Was it a heavy bop or a light bop?

These questions have been circulating inside and outside of Carson all week. And there have been comments galore on a local television station’s website where the action was broadcast, including Dear’s call for the arrest of the assailant, Vera Robles Dewitt, a leader in the campaign to recall him.

The hubbub at Tuesday’s City Council meeting seemed vintage Carson of late.

Most recently, the city’s image was tarnished in an ongoing bribery scandal involving millions of dollars in municipal contracts.

In December 2004, former Mayor Daryl Sweeney was sentenced to nearly six years in prison in the case. He was the ninth defendant, the second mayor and the fourth council member to plead guilty.

To recap Tuesday’s incident: Dewitt, a former mayor and owner of Carson Bail Bonds, was addressing the council the day after she delivered 12,169 signatures calling for Dear’s recall. The mayor, among other things, is accused by recall proponents of siding with developers who want to build an apartment complex in the city.

After Dewitt finished speaking, she stepped from the lectern and began walking up the aisle of the council chambers. As she passed Schaefer, a Dear friend and supporter, Dewitt delivered a backhanded swat with her papers to the back of the commissioner’s head.

After a brief pause, Schaefer shrieked and rolled to the floor, at which point the mayor stood from his council seat and called out, “She hit her right in the eye! Stop that woman from leaving the room! She struck the woman. She should be arrested. This is unbelievable. We’re going to call a doctor.”

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Schaefer declined medical aid and rubbed the back of her head as a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy helped her back into her seat.

“This is so traumatic, both physically and emotionally. I was hit in the head and I didn’t know but that the building might be coming down,” she said Friday. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I got scared.”

The incident, though, has now become a matter for law enforcement and the district attorney to consider.

Sheriff’s Capt. Todd Rogers, who was there that night, said the “video is pretty much self-explanatory. It wasn’t a real forceful strike but clearly an intentional strike. We’re investigating it as a battery.”

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The definition of battery is “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.”

The Sheriff’s Department said Saturday that Dewitt was arrested and released after being issued a citation to appear in Compton Municipal Court on suspicion of battery.

Meanwhile, the city’s video of the incident has been playing on the website of KNBC-TV Channel 4. Many viewer comments either criticize Carson in general or take issue with the grievousness of the hit.

“Oh, wow,” wrote one contributor, who gave “passerby” as a name. “Thanks for the laugh. As a Carson resident for almost 30 years, this just takes the cake! This just goes to show how asinine our leaders are ... from the mayor all the way down.”

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Another writer, who identified himself as Frank M, called the incident an “absolute joke. That woman was not hit nearly hard enough to be hurt, let alone knocked to the ground.”

How this, or the recall, will play out is anyone’s guess. Getting a recall election requires 20% of the Carson electorate, or 8,676 voters, far fewer than were collected. The mayor submitted 5,858 cards Monday from residents asking that their names be removed from the recall petition.

Dewitt, meanwhile, would not comment on the incident. And Schaefer said it was not up to her to decide whether Dewitt would be charged.

“If I hadn’t been hit, nothing would have happened,” she said. “I’m not a person who takes surprises very well.”

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Stay tuned.

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michael.kennedy@latimes.com


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