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O.C. Sheriff’s officials investigating deputy seen wearing extremist insignia at Costa Mesa protest

O.C. Sheriff's Department
CAIR-L.A. called on Orange County Sheriff’s Department officials to investigate a deputy seen at Tuesday’s Costa Mesa protest wearing an insignia for an extremist group.
(Courtesy of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-L.A.)

Orange County Sheriff’s Department officials said Wednesday they were investigating an incident of a deputy who was seen at a demonstration in Costa Mesa Tuesday wearing an unauthorized insignia supporting the Three Percenters, a far-right militia organization.

The matter was brought to the attention of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA), which issued a release providing video footage of a deputy working outside the OC Fairgrounds during a peaceful protest.

For the record:

11:01 AM, Jun. 04, 2020An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote to Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley and misstated that the protest happened on the OC Fairgrounds. City spokesman Tony Dodero said, “We have no jurisdiction over the O.C. Sheriff Department and the deputy is not one of our employees,” not Foley. The protest took place on the sidewalk next to the OC Fairgrounds.

Patches on the deputy’s protective vest depicted the Gadsen flag — a coiled rattlesnake with the words “Don’t Tread on Me” associated with the Tea Party Movement — and an American flag partially covered by the word “Oathkeeper” and a symbol referencing the Three Percenters, a group CAIR officials claim pledges armed resistance against attempts to restrict private gun ownership.

“It is outrageous that a member of a law enforcement organization would be so brazen as to apparently wear a symbol of violence, discord and bigotry on his uniform, especially in the wake of the murder of George Floyd,” CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush said Wednesday.

“We demand that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigate this incident, identify the officer and take appropriate action,” he continued.

About 200 people, most of them young, peacefully assembled across from Costa Mesa City Hall and the city’s police department before proceeding past Orange Coast College toward the 405 Freeway.

Sheriff Don Barnes said Wednesday the department is conducting an internal investigation into the deputy’s actions, which appeared to violate OCSD policy. The deputy, whose name is not being released to the public, has been put on administrative leave, O.C. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said.

“These symbols are not department-approved and are prohibited by policy and contradict the values of the Sheriff’s Department,” Barnes said. “This deputy’s decision to wear these patches, and the implication of his association with an extremist group is unacceptable and deeply concerning to me.”

OCSD’s department manual contains a uniform policy stating deputies must wear sewn-on name badges and carry an identification card. In a photo provided by CAIR-LA, the deputy’s vest covers his shirtfront and does not bear identification.

Braun said officials will seek to understand the deputy’s intentions for wearing the badges, and for failing to apply the required identification to his exterior vest.

“That will be part of the investigation — whether he had that and chose not to wear it and what went into that decision,” she added.

The worldwide civil unrest caused by George Floyd’s death — by suffocation, as one officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes — largely did not slide into violence in Newport Beach, where four demonstrations were planned around the city Wednesday.

Policy violations at large can incur a wide range of disciplinary response, Braun added, ranging from unpaid time off work to an employee’s termination.

Ethical standards listed in the manual as part of a code of professional conduct and responsibility for peace officers states officers “shall not allow their personal convictions, beliefs, prejudices, or biases to interfere unreasonably with their official acts or decisions.”

The Three Percenters’ website maintains the group is not an anti-government militia but an organization whose goal is to “utilize the fail-safes put in place by our [nation’s] founders to rein in an overreaching government and push back against tyranny.”

The national Anti-Defamation League, however, described “Oath Keepers” as loosely organized anti-government extremists who explicitly focus on recruiting current and former military members, police officers and firefighters.

Oath Keepers, the league continues, appeared at Ferguson, Mo., during protests and unrest following the 2014 shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown Jr. by a Ferguson police officer.

Tuesday’s protest in Costa Mesa drew about 200 demonstrators, who peacefully processed from just outside the OC Fairgrounds along city streets and toward the 405 Freeway. The crowd was watched by the O.C. Sheriff’s Department, which has jurisdiction over the fairgrounds. The department also helped Costa Mesa during Monday’s protest at South Coast Plaza.

An hours-long standoff between protesters and police took place Monday night at South Coast Plaza, with demonstrators asking police to “take a knee.”

On Wednesday, city and police officials declined to comment, saying the incident involving the deputy was not in their purview.

“We have no jurisdiction over the O.C. Sheriff Department and the deputy is not one of our employees,” city spokesman Tony Dodero clarified in an email.

Braun said Wednesday Barnes had been in touch with Costa Mesa Police Department Chief Bryan Glass and was outraged and extremely upset at the poor timing of the incident.

“We’re doing everything possible to deepen relationships we’ve already made with the community, in particular with the black community in Orange County,” Braun said. “This serves nothing other than to drive a wedge between that, which is the opposite of what we need to be doing at this time.”

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