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Frustration, Relief Mark End of O.C. Probe

March 11, 1994|LEE ROMNEY and GEBE MARTINEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

There were sighs of relief, expressions of frustration and a call for healing.

The Orange County Grand Jury's decision not to indict sheriff's deputy Brian P. Scanlan for the fatal shooting of a fellow officer brought a mixed reaction Thursday.

Scanlan and his family could not be reached for comment, and his attorney declined to say anything. But black community leaders who had sought more information about the fatal shooting of Orange County Sheriff's Deputy Darryn Leroy Robins expressed dissatisfaction with the decision reached by the grand jury behind closed doors.

The Dec. 25 shooting death rallied black community activists who had said the lack of information about the shooting of Robins, who was black, by a white colleague, was suspicious in its own right. Now they fear their questions will remain unanswered.

"I am not satisfied, and I believe that many in the community will feel the same way," said Eugene Wheeler, a health-care administrator who heads a business and civic group called 100 Black Men of Orange County. "We've got no official explanation as to what evidence (the grand jury) considered, so it's hard for us to know.

"We believe that it was not a just decision. They have not released any real information about what happened, and they may never do that. It's not satisfactory because it's short in coming and it's slow in coming."

Sheriff Brad Gates said he would not second-guess the grand jury. "We've all been waiting for this decision to occur," Gates said, "so we can try to heal the wounds that have occurred because of this tragedy. It's time for that now."

A representative of rank-and-file deputies said the grand jury decision puts a painful issue to rest.

"I'm relieved, as I'm sure the vast majority of the Sheriff's Department will be," said Robert MacLeod, general manager for the Orange County Deputy Sheriff's Assn. "This was a great tragedy, not only for the Robins family, but for every member of this department.

"The thought that this portion of the case is concluded and some emotional healing can begin, is very comforting," he said.

One 19-year veteran sheriff's deputy, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said the department has been grieving both for the loss of Robins and the emotional devastation Scanlan has suffered.

"Darryn Robins is dead, and that is horrible, but Brian Scanlan's life will never be the same again," he said. "Two lives have been ruined.

"This was something that never should have happened, but by no means was this something that was planned, or something that was done as a result of somebody being black, or somebody being Asian, or somebody being anything. This was a training situation that went bad," he said.

"It's so distasteful when people try to make this into something that it's not so they can get attention, so they can have a forum to speak about other problems."

Garden Grove Police Chief Stanley L. Knee said he was glad to see the case finally resolved. He said that a "lack of information" on the case had fueled concerns among the public, and the decision may help resolve some of those worries.

"Any time there is a police officer involved in a shooting, it's a tragic situation, so I think there'll be many people who'll be relieved that it's finally over," Knee said.

Knee said he couldn't comment on the grand jury decision itself, because there aren't "more than a handful" of people who know enough about what happened at the parking lot that day. But, he said, "I trust the system, and I feel the grand jury, from its past history, has looked at this case fairly and reached a decision based on what was in their heart and what the law allows."

Wheeler and others critical of the way the investigation was handled were careful not to pin their anger on members of the grand jury. But, they said, the grand jury's racial makeup--predominantly white--and the fact that it takes instructions from the district attorney's office, may have clouded its ability to properly examine the facts in the case.

"The person who advises the grand jury is a (prosecutor) from the D.A.'s office," Wheeler said. "He has a great influence on that jury, so is that independent?

"The D.A.'s office is the one that investigated the case. They didn't need the grand jury to investigate the case," Wheeler said. "If they wanted an indictment, why didn't they (charge) him?"

In announcing the grand jury's decision, Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi noted that his office had recommended that Scanlan be indicted for involuntary manslaughter.

"We wanted to see if 19 citizens (on the grand jury) would agree with our evaluation," he said in a statement. "The grand jury did not, and we respect their collective wisdom."

Capizzi was unavailable for further comment.

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