COSTA MESA — The city attorney on Tuesday cleared Planning Commissioner Jim Righeimer of any wrongdoing after investigating why he pulled over at a DUI checkpoint, introduced himself to officers and asked why they were conducting the operation during peak traffic hours on Harbor Boulevard.
"I cannot conclude that Mr. Righeimer intended to misuse his position, although he did introduce himself that way and that is very common for public officials to do," said City Atty. Kimberly Hall Barlow.
Allen Rieckhof, president of the Costa Mesa Police Assn., disagreed with the parameters of the investigation in which Righeimer was cleared of criminal misconduct.
"We weren't asking for a criminal investigation," Rieckhof told the Daily Pilot after the meeting. "What we were asking for is, did he abuse his authority? The investigation, as far as I'm concerned, was not transparent. It was not a complete investigation.
"I know for a fact that witnesses statements were being delivered at 4:30 this afternoon and they had already concluded their findings. How do you conclude an investigation without having all the facts in front of you, and why cover it up and not release the entire report for the public to review?"
Righeimer could not be reached for comment.
Barlow said that while police may have perceived Righeimer's approach as an attempt to close down the checkpoint, she could not determine his intent.
"Is she telling me that all four officers got it wrong, and they didn't even take into account additional statements that were given this evening?" Rieckhof said. "How is that a proper investigation? And to not release the investigation to the public — it reeks of a cover-up."
Councilwoman Katrina Foley challenged Barlow to provide the public with details on the basis of her conclusion.
"The factual statement that someone ordered someone to shut down the checkpoint was a perception, not a fact?" Foley asked.
Barlow said she could not provide any details of the investigation before getting permission from the council to disclose the privileged information.
The investigative report, including witness statements and police reports of the account, is exempt from public access and would not be released unless the City Council made an exception.
Councilman Gary Monahan said he did not see why an exception would be made to release the report.
The planning commissioner's Sept. 16 incident has since divided many voters into pro- and anti-Righeimer factions, and it has intensified the already-tumultuous relationship between the Police Assn. and him. Righeimer, a City Council candidate, has repeatedly threatened to cut police and firefighters' benefits if elected.
The police association has launched a negative campaign against Righeimer, airing his past liens and lawsuits on a website. It also sent mailers and is driving a billboard on a trailer around town, in hopes of getting him defeated in November.
After the DUI checkpoint, Righeimer, a former Daily Pilot columnist, said that he was delayed in backed-up traffic while on his way to an Estancia High School football game. He got out of his car to ask why police would set up a DUI checkpoint near the San Diego (405) Freeway offramp at Gisler Avenue and Harbor Boulevard during rush hour.
Police contended that Righeimer threw his weight around as a planning commissioner and demanded the DUI checkpoint be shut down.