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Councilman Fined Over Scuffle With Youths; 1 Charge Dropped

September 12, 1985|WILLIAM NOTTINGHAM | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — City Councilman Edd Tuttle has paid a relatively stiff $340 fine and had his legal slate wiped clean after deciding not to contest charges that he was drunk and disorderly during a scuffle with youths on a city bus Aug. 19.

A more serious misdemeanor charge of impersonating a public officer was dropped after Tuttle's lawyer, Charles A. Gangloff, struck what he characterized as a plea bargain with City Prosecutor John A. Vander Lans.

Vander Lans said this week that further investigation had raised doubts about whether he could prove the impersonation charge, which carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and $2,500 in fines.

Prosecutor Steps In

Although Vander Lans usually assigns such cases to one of his assistants, the prosecutor himself appeared at Tuttle's Friday arraignment before Municipal Judge Michael G. Nott. Vander Lans stressed that the 38-year-old councilman--who has a hand each year in setting the prosecutor's budget--was being treated just as tough, if not tougher, than the average citizen who breaks the law.

"If there was going to be any criticism, I wanted it to be of me and not one of my assistants," Vander Lans explained later. "You know, 'The buck stops here.' "

Tuttle was not required to attend the proceedings and chose to stay away. His lawyer plead no contest to the two charges, public intoxication and disorderly conduct.

This week the City Council censured Tuttle for the incident on the bus, citing the racial slurs made against the youths, who are black. (See story this page.) Tuttle is white. The bus incident also led to the three-term councilman publicly acknowledging a longstanding drinking problem for which he is seeking medical help.

Tuttle also received a one-year probation, but that was automatically terminated upon payment of the fines. At Gangloff's request, Nott agreed to expunge the two charges from Tuttle's record. Tuttle has said that in 1969 he was arrested for drunken driving, a charge that was reduced to reckless driving when he pleaded guilty and paid a fine.

The expungement does not alter any of the facts but could come in handy if Tuttle seeks reelection when his term expires in 1988. "At this point," Gangloff explained, "he can honestly and legally say that he's not convicted of these crimes."

Penalty Common

Samuel M. Salmon, president of the Long Beach Bar Assn., said such an action is standard when the person pleading guilty or no contest lacks a significant criminal past.

Based on his 27-year experience as a lawyer practicing in Long Beach Municipal Court, Salmon said the fines Tuttle paid also were slightly higher than average.

Gilbert Wong, chief clerk in the criminal division and a 23-year court official, agreed that "the typical fine is a suspended sentence" for first offenders with no prior convictions.

"Because of his being a city councilman," lawyer Salmon said, "he probably got penalized more."

It was late on a Monday afternoon when Tuttle boarded the city bus and encountered a group of black youths who were whistling and making comments to a woman passenger. Tuttle responded by shouting racial slurs at the youths and identifying himself as a police officer, according to the police reports.

Challenged Youth

At one point, the councilman--who is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds--spit on a 17-year-old and challenged him to fight, the reports said. Then Tuttle shoved the youth, who then kicked him in the groin, the reports said.

To make the impersonation charge stick, according to defense lawyer Gangloff, prosecutors would have had to prove that the youths were intimidated by Tuttle's alleged police officer claim. However, Gangloff contended that the kicking of Tuttle showed that the youths had no such fear.

Tuttle's arrest grew more complicated when he refused to give police his home address. For months, he has kept his address and home telephone number secret for fear of being confronted by the estranged husband of his girlfriend, he has said. In August 1984, the husband was arrested for arson when a fire broke out at the residence Tuttle and the girlfriend shared. However, the husband was acquitted during a jury trial.

Several days before his arrest, the councilman acknowledged that he was considering hiring his girlfriend as a legislative assistant. City officials say the hiring would violate the City Charter if the two live at the same address.

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