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Deputy's Lawyer Lauds Grand Jury : Ruling: O.C. panel averted 'double tragedy' in deciding not to indict lawman in death of fellow officer, attorney says. However, minority leaders may again ask for probe.

March 12, 1994|ERIC LICHTBLAU and DOREEN CARVAJAL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Even as angry minority leaders called a countywide meeting to plan their next step over Sheriff's Deputy Brian P. Scanlan's fatal shooting of a fellow officer, some of Scanlan's supporters spoke out for the first time Friday to laud this week's grand jury decision not to indict him.

Breaking a 10-week silence in the case, Scanlan's lawyer said in a statement that the Orange County Grand Jury acted wisely Thursday in averting a "double tragedy" by refusing to bring criminal charges against the Sheriff's Department training officer.

Authorities say that Scanlan, 32, and Deputy Darryn Leroy Robins, 30, were running through an impromptu training exercise behind a Lake Forest movie theater during a slow Christmas Day patrol when the shooting took place.

According to the official account of the incident released this week, Robins was playing the part of the driver in a car stop when, simulating a technique used by Los Angeles gang members, he reached for a small pistol hidden behind the sun visor of his patrol car to get the drop on the training officer.

A startled Scanlan--who was holding a loaded gun in apparent violation of department training policies--fired and shot Robins in the head.

"No crime was committed, and perhaps the grand jury saw the wisdom of saving law enforcement resources for genuinely serious crime problems," said Scanlan's attorney, James A. Stotler, who had refused to talk about his client's case since the fatality.

Scanlan's brother, Michael, a Long Beach police sergeant, said in an interview at his Garden Grove home that his younger sibling remains deeply shaken by the shooting but has been comforted by signs of understanding and compassion from the widow of the slain deputy.

Michael Scanlan said Rosemary Robins has passed along supportive messages to Brian through others. "That's what helped him--her support. . . . A lot of different people and political groups were drawing sinister conclusions, and she didn't allow that to affect their relationship," he said. Associates have said Scanlan and Robins were friends on the force.

But efforts by Scanlan's supporters and law enforcement officials to bring to a close one of the tensest chapters in the 105-year history of the Sheriff's Department did little to mollify representatives of black and Latino groups, who have sharply questioned the handling of the case by authorities.

If anything, a day of reflection after the grand jury's decision appeared to have embittered some black leaders.

"What kind of a system do we have here?" pleaded Van Roberson, president of the Baptist Minister Fellowship Conference of Orange County, who has helped form a coalition of black leaders to press for more information on the death of Robins, who was black. Scanlan is white.

"The man is dead, he's gone, what more information do you need to know that something is not right?" Roberson said. "Is that (grand jury decision) telling me that a black man doesn't mean anything in this community? You can shoot somebody and get away with it?

"A black man is nothing, he's almost less than a dog. If it was the other way around, if it was a black guy that shot this Scanlan, I guarantee you it would have been different."

Intent on pursuing the case, Roberson and other civil rights leaders planned a 7 p.m. meeting Monday night at Tippen's Seafood, 1229 W. 5th St., in Santa Ana, to discuss the grand jury's decision and plan what steps they make take now.

"We want everyone interested in this issue to come so we can get a consensus on how the county feels about this," said Randall Jordan, publisher of a black-oriented monthly magazine called Black Orange.

Minority leaders acknowledge they have no evidence that race played a part in the killing, or in the way authorities handled it, and they have encountered charges from critics of inflaming the issue with racial rhetoric.

But they nonetheless insist that the slow release of public information and the close relations between the Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office have only fueled suspicions of wrongdoing in their communities.

"There is a very lingering, ill ease within our community about this particular case," said Amin David, a Latino activist with Los Amigos of Orange County, who met with members of the grand jury several weeks ago to discuss this and other cases of minority interest.

The district attorney's office said it had recommended to the grand jury that it indict Scanlan for involuntary manslaughter because of his "grossly negligent" conduct. But the panel--in a rare rejection of the district attorney's recommendation--decided not to indict.

David said the unusual nature of such a decision makes him wonder how strenuously prosecutors pushed for an indictment. "I don't have a sense that it was pursued with vigor at all. Had it been, the grand jury would have done the most reasonable thing," he said.

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