Demonstrators on Saturday gathered in front of the Costa Mesa Police Department to support Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who they contend was falsely accused of driving drunk by a private investigator who works for a law firm that represents police unions.
A motorist tailing Righeimer called 911 Wednesday, saying the councilman was swerving and appeared drunk. Righeimer, who said he only drank a Diet Coke, was given a sobriety test by police at his home and passed. The man who made the call is a fired Riverside police officer who works with a law firm that until recently was retained by the Costa Mesa Police Assn.
"I disagree with Righeimer on things," said Bill Ward, a Costa Mesa resident at the demonstration, "but we've gone from dirty politics to corruption. We know there's already dirty politics, but this goes over the line."
The police association and a partner in the law firm have both said they did not hire the P.I. to follow Righeimer. The Orange County Employees Assn., which represents non-public safety employees, has also said it had nothing to do with the incident and that Righeimer had no evidence to link labor to the 911 call.
On Friday, Costa Mesa City Hall released a copy of the 911 call made by a man who identifies himself as Chris Lanzillo and reports that Righeimer left Councilman Gary Monahan's bar and restaurant, Skosh Monahan's, and was driving drunk.
Lanzillo is a former Riverside police officer who works for the Upland law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, which represented the Costa Mesa Police Assn. until two days after the Wednesday incident. The CMPA broke off ties with the firm, saying it was too aggressive.
Righeimer characterized the incident as a union "setup," but said he doesn't believe the officer who responded and gave him a DUI field sobriety test was involved.
"If you think about the classic definition of thuggery, this is it," said Phil Morello, a Costa Mesa resident and the organizer of the demonstration. "The individual police officers elect their people to represent them, so I can't say they're totally innocent."
The demonstration was a mixture of Orange County Republicans and Tea Party members, about half from Costa Mesa and most waving American flags. Some wore shirts with stars and stripes.
The majority of the 30 or so people there supported City Council's current plan to outsource city services and go to a city charter form of government, an initiative that will be on the November ballot. They carried signs than said "CM Charter: Yes; Union Thugs: No" and "We Support J. Righeimer."
Righeimer, who did not attend the demonstration, said he understood the demonstrators' reaction to the incident.
"People are upset that the union, that an employee of the law firm that represents the police union ..." would do this, he said.
Righeimer and protesters called for the Orange County District Attorney's office to investigate. Police officials said they are looking into if the caller committed a crime.
Security video released
In the 911 recording, the caller said Righeimer stumbled out of Skosh Monahan's and was swerving in his SUV. The caller said he was not from the area and had gone to the location to meet a friend, though he couldn't remember the name of the location.
In security video from inside Skosh Monahan's shown to the Daily Pilot on Saturday, Righeimer can be seen sitting alone at a booth having a drink. It's not clear what he's drinking, but Righeimer produced a receipt from the bar on Friday showing he was charged $6 for two Diet Cokes.
Righeimer said he met Councilman Steve Mensinger there after an event earlier in the day. The video from inside the restaurant shows Righeimer finishing his drink, going to an ATM to get cash and paying his bill at the bar.
Video from outside the bar shows Righeimer leaving. He does not appear to be stumbling, as the caller on the 911 tape described. A camera facing East 20th Street shows Righeimer's black GMC Yukon pulling onto Newport Boulevard.
Eight seconds later, a white Kia sports utility vehicle — matching the description of the 911 caller's car — follows Righeimer's path.
Video facing Newport Boulevard shows the Kia continuing to follow Righeimer from Skosh Monahan's.
The Kia was seen outside of Righeimer's house when the officer arrived.