This is the second in a two-part series.
In last week’s Olive Avenue Confidential, former Burbank mover and shaker Scott Schaffer spoke out publicly for the first time since his 2005 arrest and 13-month prison sentence for mixing drugs and guns with bad decision-making and terrible timing.
Now nearing the end of his criminal probation and tasked with starting a new life under the weight of a felony conviction, Schaffer’s reasons for finally speaking his mind aren’t all that difficult to understand.
Schaffer, now sober, was no angel, but he argues he wasn’t half the villain that investigators made him out to be — and Burbank was so ready to believe — during the frenzied law enforcement response to the gang-related shooting death of Officer Matthew Pavelka, a time when it appears the Burbank Police Department crossed a few lines of its own.
The once civically active former cab company owner was certainly on the wrong side of the law in giving guns to drinking companions who would sell him cocaine, actions he has admitted to, paid dearly for and attributes to a fog of alcohol addiction and depression.
But Schaffer’s former friends and acquaintances in Burbank — and most of the town, really — have convicted Schaffer in their minds of far greater crimes than his single federal conviction for using firearms in commission of a felony.
Schaffer still carries the stain of his initial indictment on much more serious charges that he knowingly approached members of the deadly Vineland Boys street gang to trade weapons for drugs and used his cab company to further the gang’s arms and narcotics trafficking.
Though these charges were never argued in court and based largely on the word of secret informants, and considering the fact that none of Schaffer’s weapons was publicly connected to a crime, how many of us jumped immediately to the conclusion that Schaffer was no less than an accomplice in the tragic murder of Officer Pavelka?
How many of us stopped to think whether a diabolical criminal mind would have trafficked firearms legally registered in his name, without even reporting them stolen?
While the final word about misconduct inside the Burbank Police Department has yet to drop, should it make a difference now that officers who led the investigation against Schaffer (and interrogated him without an attorney — Schaffer had waived his right) are among those named in the FBI’s probe and no longer work there?
Despite the invitation last week for Burbank residents to weigh in on Schaffer’s side of the story, I received only one e-mail from a local businessman who wrote he’d met Schaffer briefly on a few occasions and had found him helpful and kind.
Calls Monday to some of Burbank’s city officials at that time also failed to elicit public response.
It’s clear that Schaffer’s name is still toxic around town.
Considering the tongue-lashing given Bob Hope Airport Commissioner and former Burbank Police Department Lt. Don Brown over a letter he sent to the court on Schaffer’s behalf prior to sentencing, I shouldn’t have been surprised.
But Schaffer’s case and that of former Mayor Stacey Murphy — his girlfriend at the time and also implicated in drug use — deserve a second thought.
Just as few in town had heard of the Vineland Boys before Pavelka’s death, hardly anyone dared imagine two years ago that police misconduct might become an issue in our modern Mayberry.
Burbank seems slow to consider potential problems until they blow up, but then quick to throw those involved — politicians, residents or police — under the public opinion bus.
JOE PIASECKI is an Annenberg Fellow with USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a contributing editor for the Pasadena Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.