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Inquiry Uncovers No Ill Will Between Scanlan, Robins

March 24, 1994|RENE LYNCH and ERIC LICHTBLAU | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SANTA ANA — Despite concerns that race may have played a role in the accidental shooting death of a black sheriff's deputy by a white officer, documents released Wednesday show the Orange County district attorney's office turned up no evidence to indicate animosity between the two.

While the records detail how investigators concluded that Deputy Brian P. Scanlan showed "grossly negligent behavior" during the incident, they offer no clear explanation of why criminal charges were not brought by a grand jury against him for shooting and killing deputy Darryn Leroy Robins in an impromptu training exercise Christmas Day.

By law, transcripts of the Orange County Grand Jury's proceedings remain secret, leaving critics with lingering doubts about the circumstances surrounding Robins' death.

"There are more questions that are raised in my mind than answered," said Eugene Wheeler, who heads 100 Black Men of Orange County, a business and civic group. "We are still searching for answers, still searching for the truth and justice.

"Prosecutors saw something that caused them to believe they should prosecute," he said. "If (Scanlan) was negligent and it cost someone their life, there should be some action."

Voluminous reports compiled by the district attorney--including dozens of interviews, lab findings, crime scene analyses and an autopsy report--appear to corroborate Scanlan's recollection of the shooting.

In the end, however, prosecutors investigating the shooting were forced to rely heavily on Scanlan, the only person to witness firsthand one of the most bizarre incidents in the history of the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Robins, the only other person who knew what happened in a deserted parking lot behind a Lake Forest movie theater, was pronounced dead shortly after he was shot in the face.

Many critics also remain skeptical, however, that Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi's office could complete an independent review of the case because of the close relationship between his office and the Sheriff's Department. They still question how aggressively investigators pursued an indictment against Scanlan and wonder how a routine training session could go so terribly awry.

Robins, the training officer in the exercise, was black. Scanlan, who played the role of an officer who had stopped a car, is white.

"A separate body should have handled it," said Pastor Van Roberson, president of the Baptist Minster Fellowship Conference of Orange County. He has helped form a coalition of black leaders to press for more information about the shooting.

"Something still is not right about all this. It's heartbreaking to know that a deputy dies at the hands of another officer and nothing is being done," Roberson said.

Assistant Dist. Atty. John D. Conley said he is well aware of such criticism, but believes it is misplaced.

"This investigation is as thorough as we can make it," he said, adding that Wheeler, who was interviewed by authorities as part of the probe, could not point to evidence that race was a factor in the shooting or the subsequent investigation. Another anonymous tip that the shooting was intentional also could not be proved, he said.

"My own speculation is that there are people out there who will say 'this is white, racist, John Birch Society Orange County, and it must be racist,' " Conley said. "That is unfortunate."

Indeed, many deputies who worked closely with Scanlan and Robins say the two were close friends, according to interviews with sheriff's deputies released Wednesday. They believe the shooting was an accident that will forever haunt Scanlan.

But at least one female deputy who trained with Scanlan said she heard him make "ethnic comments and innuendos in her presence," a report shows.

Deputy Trisha Davis said Robins once warned her to stay away from "cowboys" like Scanlan because "they'll either get you hurt or in trouble," according to her statements to authorities. Davis said, however, that she did not believe race was a factor in the shooting.

Investigators interviewed 45 people, including Scanlan and 37 other sheriff's deputies, as well as seven civilian witnesses. Their reports, which stretched hundreds of pages, included forensic tests, blood tests, autopsy results, a ballistics analysis and numerous other tests.

Yet for investigators, the case was clearly a difficult one, given the lack of eyewitnesses. Arriving at the site of the shooting, which shattered the calm of Christmas Day, they found a gruesome scene: the bloodied front seat of Robins' patrol car, speckled with bits of flesh and several of the critically wounded officer's teeth.

After combing the car, parking lot and the deputies' weapons for fingerprints and gunpowder residue, and examining the bullet's trajectory, investigators found themselves trying to reconstruct the mishap based largely on Scanlan's recollections.

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