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Questions Linger in '93 Shooting Death of Deputy : Law enforcement: After an Orange County officer was killed by a colleague, a grand jury did not return an indictment. Now, some jurors are talking and the family is seeking answers.

December 25, 1994|RENE LYNCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — One year after a deputy sheriff shot and killed a fellow deputy during an impromptu training session on Christmas Day, 1993, questions raised by the shooting incident have not waned, and in some instances have grown more troubling.

Although a year has passed, the deputy who fired the fatal shot has not returned to work, and a decision on any disciplinary action he might face is still pending.

Deputy Brian P. Scanlan was placed on paid leave after shooting Deputy Darryn Leroy Robins in the face on Dec. 25, 1993, behind a Lake Forest theater, where Robins--apparently trying to demonstrate how bad guys can get the drop on officers--pulled a concealed weapon and pointed it at Scanlan during a mock traffic stop.

Startled, Scanlan "jerked back," and fired a single shot into the 30-year-old deputy's face, according to a statement Scanlan made to investigators.

Not even a county grand jury could put to rest the lengthy controversy over the killing, which was made all the more sensitive because Scanlan is white and Robins was black.

At one point, minority leaders tried unsuccessfully to get state or federal authorities to take over the formal investigation into the slaying, voicing concerns that the Orange County district attorney's investigation might be tainted by its need to preserve good working relations with the Sheriff's Department.

The district attorney's office concluded that Scanlan had been "grossly negligent" and says it wanted Scanlan charged with involuntary manslaughter. But county prosecutors left the final decision in the hands of the Orange County Grand Jury that was sitting at the time.

That grand jury--which was then under fire for not having enough minority panel members--declined to issue an indictment, and that decision effectively sealed for all time the transcripts of what transpired behind closed doors in the grand jury proceedings.

For minority leaders who raised questions about the pace and thoroughness of the investigation, the secrecy enshrouding the case has only caused open wounds to fester.

"Deputy Scanlan will forever have this hanging over his head (and) we will forever have questions about what really happened that day. Nothing has really been solved in that way," said Eugene Wheeler, president of 100 Black Men of Orange County, a group that found itself leading efforts to get answers about the tragedy.

Although suggestions that race influenced the handling of the case were disputed by law enforcement, investigative records and Robins' widow, it nonetheless remains a sore point for Wheeler and others.

And for the first time, grand jurors who listened to testimony in the case are joining some of the critics--although they do not agree that race played a role in the killing or the investigation.

Anaheim retiree John Jeffers Baird, one of the panel's members, said he remains surprised by the grand jury's decision not to indict. But he refused to say how he voted, noting that grand jurors who reveal details of the secret proceedings can be charged with a misdemeanor.

"All I can say is it was a very painful episode, and I can assure you I will never forget it," Baird said. "I can say I was very surprised at the way it turned out, after the information we were given."

But another grand juror who spoke on the condition that his identity not be revealed went further.

"The D.A. decided to come to us because they knew what the outcome would be when you bring a case like this before a bunch of older retirees, with only a few minorities" among the jurors, the grand juror said.

"If anyone deserved to be indicted, he deserved to be indicted," the juror said of Scanlan. "I'm not saying he deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail. But this was grossly, grossly negligent. I will be troubled by this until the day I die."

But Guy Ormes, a prosecutor who oversees special assignments at the Orange County district attorney's office, strongly disagreed with the criticism.

"We went down there asking for an indictment. No one disagrees with that, so I don't think anyone can say otherwise," Ormes said. Noting that the case was an emotional one, Ormes said a public consensus would never be reached.

"I know there were people who criticized the grand jury and our office. . . . But had the grand jury voted for an indictment, people would have been upset about that," Ormes said. "No one has ever been happy about this case."

The grand jurors who spoke about the case agreed that prosecutors presented the case in a professional and unbiased manner. But missing from the information presented in March were the results of a coroner's review, which was not completed until later that spring.

The review included a re-enactment of the incident using lifelike dummies and sheriff's vehicles. As a result of the review, the coroner's office concluded that the cause of Robin's death was homicide--as opposed to an accidental death--as reflected on the June 15 death certificate.

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