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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Room Mate

March 26, 1994

When one law enforcement agency investigates another law enforcement agency there can be questions of fairness and independence, especially when they work together frequently and need each other.

Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates seemed alert to that problem of perceptions of fairness after one of his deputies, Darryn Leroy Robins, was shot to death by another deputy, Brian P. Scanlan, during a December training exercise. Gates stressed that his office had no part in the probe conducted by the Orange County district attorney's office.

But now it turns out that a Sheriff's Department investigator sat in on nearly all the interviews that district attorney's investigators conducted. That was a mistake.

There is no reason to assume that having the Sheriff's Department representative at the interviews skewed the results of the investigation. Indeed, the district attorney recommended that involuntary manslaughter charges be brought against Scanlan, a recommendation the grand jury rejected.

But it is easy to understand how someone could worry that a Sheriff's Department employee might be less than candid if another department employee was sitting in on the questioning.

African American leaders were especially concerned by the fairness of the investigation because it was a black deputy who was killed by a white one. In such a high-profile case, both the sheriff and the D.A. should have been more sensitive to public perceptions and kept the sheriff's investigator out of the room.

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