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Drywall Workers' Strife Raises Issues for Labor Officials, Police

August 23, 1992

Like most juries, your readers should be cautioned that the comments of a defense attorney during closing arguments are not evidence.

Defense attorney Cathy Jensen makes an impassioned plea supporting the actions of the drywallers in her Commentary, "Mass Felony Arrests Show Builders' Clout With Sheriff, D.A.," Aug. 9.

What she so carefully does not tell your readers is the long litany of illegal acts committed by drywallers. Sheriff's deputies did not arrest drywallers on numerous occasions when large numbers of them burst onto job sites and destroyed many houses under construction.

Sheriff's deputies did not arrest drywallers on the several occasions they chose to completely block traffic at intersections. Sheriff's deputies released drywallers stopped for questioning in criminal matters when the deputies were confronted by large groups of other drywallers who threatened the outnumbered deputies.

It was our belief that property damage alone was not worth a confrontation. When confronted with large numbers of angry drywallers, deputy sheriffs chose to release suspected drywallers--not for fear of their own safety, but rather because they had good common sense to not fight a battle that did not need to be fought.

In all these cases, we chose to handle the situation in the least confrontational way. That is not to say the people who committed these crimes will go free. In those cases where a crime was committed, we are actively investigating the incident.

However, when people are physically taken against their will with force and threats of harm, that constitutes kidnaping, and we were not going to tolerate such an act of violence.

The result was the arrest of those people we felt either participated, aided, or conspired to kidnap the victims. Perhaps our prior tolerance was misinterpreted by drywallers.

It is not unusual, in cases where many people are arrested for a single act, for the courts, defense attorneys and prosecutors to arrive at a negotiated settlement in which guilty pleas are entered for a crime substantially less than the one for which the people were arrested.

This is not a measure of the veracity of the original charge, but rather an indication of the further tolerance of the system for the drywallers in these circumstances.

I would think defense attorneys in this situation would have been commending the officers. There were many video cameras at nearly all the incidents in which the Orange County Sheriff's Department was involved--ours, the builders, the drywallers, the news media and private individuals. There are no tapes of any misconduct on the part of the sheriff's deputies.

We are trying very hard to protect the rights of the drywallers and to protect the rights of the builders not to have their property damaged.

DENNIS W. LaDUCER, Assistant Sheriff, Chief of Operations, County of Orange

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