O.C. sheriff’s officials sent mocking texts at board meeting
Orange County sheriff’s officials sent text messages mocking activists and board members during a Board of Supervisors meeting in November that included public comments on the department’s gun permit policies, according to nearly 400 pages of text message transcripts released this week.
The transcripts, released after the concealed weapons group Ordinary California Citizens Concerned with Safety filed a public records request, are the latest twist in an ongoing scuffle over the Sheriff Department’s concealed-weapons permit policy.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens decided to review and tighten the department’s policy on the permits given out under former Sheriff Michael S. Carona. At the Nov. 18 meeting, hundreds of permit advocates showed up to oppose the review in a meeting that lasted about eight hours.
“We are locked in mortal battle. . . . It is ugly. We will survive, however,” wrote Asst. Sheriff Mike Hillmann on his BlackBerry at 1:17 p.m. as he sat in the audience.
In another message, sheriff’s spokesman Damon Micalizzi wrote, “Is that Elton John?” in reference to one of the speakers who wore a bow tie and tinted glasses.
At 4:59 p.m. Hillman wrote: “I may just take myself as hostage for ‘good cause.’ Then I intend to revoke my sanity. Following this I believe we should consume a glass of wine.”
“Good plan,” wrote Undersheriff John Scott.
“I hope Janet has a pet she can call a friend,” Hillman wrote back, referencing Supervisor Janet Nguyen. At 6:44 p.m., Hillman wrote to an FBI agent: “No end in sight. This has been unbelievable. Am ready to stick a pencil in my eye.”
Supervisor Chris Norby said Tuesday that the transcripts reflect a “contempt and cynicism toward the whole democratic process.”
“We had a six-hour public hearing with a lot of people there, and a lot of them took time off of work at their own expense,” Norby said. “They should be heard with respect, not belittled behind their back at taxpayer expense.”
Nguyen said she was shocked by what she called a “breach of trust and protocol” and said her office was reviewing the entire transcript. “These communications between the sheriff’s senior staff clearly shows the contempt they have for this board as a governing body and the citizens of this county,” she said.
Hutchens apologized for her staff’s conduct and said department policy is that agency-issued BlackBerrys are to be used for business only.
“Clearly, I do not condone comments that were made on the e-mails, and I have admonished those that participated in . . . unprofessional conduct,” she said.
Hillman also apologized to the board Tuesday.
“My personal comments were intended to provide relief in a long and complex meeting,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, they were inappropriate, and I assume complete responsibility for their origination. I want to assure the board that I have the utmost respect for their position.”
Sheriff’s spokesman John McDonald said that the transcripts show that the majority of the e-mails were appropriate, work-related messages.
The concealed-weapons permit issue has expanded to include other disagreements between Hutchens and the board.
At a Jan. 13 supervisors meeting, sheriff’s officials were criticized for their increased security presence. Hutchens said it was necessary because of recent county layoffs and further discussion of the concealed-weapons issue.
When the weapons advocacy group filed a public records act seeking the security recording of that meeting, Hutchens said she learned that the investigator operating the camera had zoomed in on Norby’s notes and Nguyen’s BlackBerry text messages.
She launched an internal investigation, and the supervisors were offered copies of the offending portions of the tape. But Norby and Nguyen were outraged they did not receive copies of the entire recording.
Handing over complete copies would jeopardize the safety of undercover deputies at the meeting and pose other potential security risks to ongoing investigations, McDonald said.
On Monday, Hutchens denied Supervisor Patricia Bates’ written request for copies of the security recordings. At Tuesday’s supervisors meeting, members briefly discussed the tapes, board security and the transcripts. Norby questioned why undercover officers were necessary to provide board security and why Hutchens continued to withhold the tapes.
“She says this is a security risk,” Norby said. “But to me this indicates a level of mistrust of the board.”