Rally supports Costa Mesa police and firefighters

Dozens of Costa Mesa residents took to the grounds outside City Hall on Tuesday to rally in support of the city’s public safety officers.

More than 65 people gathered along Fair Drive and Vanguard Way, near the headquarters of Costa Mesa’s police and fire departments, many holding red and blue balloons and signs expressing thanks.

Passing cars honked to show their support. Firefighters onboard a fire engine, en route to a call, waved to the demonstrators. A table was set up for participants to create thank-you notes for officers and firefighters.

Participants also ate Thanks-A-Lot Girl Scout cookies.

“It’s the theme of our rally: ‘Thanks a lot,’” said Teresa Drain, a Costa Mesa resident and activist.

Costa Mesa resident Mary Spadoni, who organized the rally with Drain, said momentum was created by a plan to hold a memorial for antique dealer Jay Pinson, who had been killed in a shootout with local police. According to police, Pinson was wanted in New Mexico on suspicion of sexual penetration of a minor and embezzlement and in Texas for embezzlement and assault with a deadly weapon.

The event was to be held at Skosh Monahan’s, an Irish-themed bar and restaurant owned by Councilman Gary Monahan. Although it was eventually canceled, community ire had been raised and a desire to show appreciation for the men and women in uniform solidified.

Monahan said his intent was to raise funds for Pinson’s girlfriend and her son. He said he had no knowledge of Pinson’s possible criminal background and no desire to dishonor the police.

Roger Neth, the city’s first police officer and its chief from 1964 to 1986, attended the rally, as did former Mayor Arlene Schafer and Councilwoman Wendy Leece.

Participants ranged in age from Sally Parker, 94, to 8-month-old Ryker Wilfert-Peterson. Ryker’s mother, Heidi, gave personal thanks to Costa Mesa firefighters, who battled a blaze in December at her Hanover Drive home.

“We want to support our first responders,” she said.

Costa Mesa’s public safety personnel have been affected by recent political turmoil and strained relationships at City Hall.

In recent years, the Police Department has experienced staffing shortages — the department has around 100 officers, down from its authorized strength of about 136 — and other cuts to programs. City officials are actively recruiting.

A lawsuit against the police union, filed by Mayor Steve Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer in 2013, is also ongoing. The lawsuit alleges that the union, its law firm at the time and a private investigator conspired against them during the 2012 election season.

The Orange County district attorney’s office is prosecuting the investigator, Chris Lanzillo, and an accused accomplice, Scott Impola, for alleged crimes including placing a GPS device on Mensinger’s truck and creating a false drunk-driving report against Righeimer.

The Costa Mesa police union has not been implicated in any charges and has denied any prior knowledge of alleged illegal actions.