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Slain Guard's Spouse Decries Police Actions

Crime: Husband of corrections officer says investigators are harassing him. They contend Nuzzio Begaren has been uncooperative.

January 28, 1998|SCOTT GLOVER and BONNIE HAYES | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The husband of a slain corrections officer says Anaheim police investigators are treating him like a suspect in his wife's killing, waging a campaign of harassment that culminated late Monday with officers holding him at gunpoint on the Golden State Freeway, then searching him twice more that night.

The husband, Nuzzio Begaren, said he and a friend were driving to meet detectives about to search Begaren's Lancaster home when they were stopped near Burbank Boulevard by California Highway Patrol officers.

Begaren said he and his friend were forced to their stomachs on the freeway shoulder by a throng of armed officers before being released an hour later. "I thought this is it," he said. "They are going to kill us."

Elizabeth Begaren, a corrections officer at the state prison in Lancaster, was shot to death in front of her husband and stepdaughter Jan. 17 on a Riverside Freeway onramp in Anaheim. Begaren said his family was followed on the freeway by thieves who shot his wife and robbed her of $4,800.

The crime remains unsolved.

"Mr. Begaren is, of course, part of this investigation," Anaheim Police Lt. John Haradon said. "Even if he hasn't been named as a suspect, he hasn't been ruled out, either."

Begaren said he found a tracking device that police secretly placed on his car, which is legal in California. He

has also been asked to provide a handwriting sample. Detectives are seeking to interview his daughter for a third time--this time, without him present. They also removed several bags of documents from his Lancaster home Monday.

"Maybe they think I am hiding something from my child. . . . Maybe they think I am an accomplice," Begaren said. "As God as my witness, I was not involved in shooting my wife."

Haradon said detectives have been assigned to follow Begaren since the killing of his wife but declined to say whether they used a tracking device on Begaren's car. He said none of the clues provided by Begaren in tracking his wife's attackers, including the alleged license plate number of the attacker's vehicle, have panned out.

Added Haradon: "He's not acting, in our opinion, as though finding the killer is very important to him. We feel like he hasn't been as cooperative as he should be."

Anaheim Police Sgt. Kahle Switzer complained Tuesday about Begaren's reluctance to allow his 10-year-old daughter, Angelica, to answer more questions and help recreate the shooting.

"He still hasn't told us if he'll comply with those requests," Switzer said. "We're 10 days into this investigation and we're still waiting."

Begaren said he has been cooperative. But now he is angry.

"They have no fear of God the way they are harassing me," he said. "I don't trust them anymore. I don't believe them."

On Monday night, Begaren said authorities called him at a friend's house in Orange County where he and his daughter are staying and told him to meet police at his Lancaster home.

While Begaren was en route, CHP Officer Gary Butler said Anaheim police called at 8:11 p.m. to stop a possible suspect "in the murder of a corrections officer." At the time, Butler said, Begaren's car was being followed by eight unmarked Anaheim police cars.

Anaheim investigators called the CHP because Begaren was driving "so fast that he became a danger to the public's safety," said Switzer.

"It's my guess that after we spoke, he went flying out to make it to Lancaster," Switzer said. ". . . but it got to the point that our officers had to step in and do something or someone was going to get killed."

Switzer acknowledged CHP officers pulled Begaren over with their guns drawn, ordering him and his passenger to the ground. He said CHP officers were apparently working under the "misinterpretation" that Begaren was dangerous. Begaren was ticketed for driving with a suspended license and released, Switzer said.

Begaren said he was too unnerved to keep his appointment with detectives at his Lancaster home, and decided to return to the Fullerton area, where he is staying with his daughter.

"That was not our plan at all. Our intention was to have him present during the search," Switzer said. "We wanted nothing more than to have him there."

While driving back, Begaren said, police again stopped and searched his car. Investigators seized condolence cards given his daughter by classmates, he said, and then released him.

A short time later, Begaren said, police arrived at his friend's home and conducted another search. Officers took some bills he was planning to mail.

Switzer said officers waited at Begaren's Lancaster home until 9:45 p.m. before beginning their search.

They seized more than 10 bags of documents and other items from the house, including correspondence and telephone records.

While there, Switzer said, detectives were able to obtain two more search warrants: for Begaren's car and the Fullerton home where he has been staying. Those warrants were served later that night.

"This has been an intensive investigation, I mean nonstop since this thing happened," Switzer said. "We have several teams working it and we're overlooking nothing."

Begaren said the "harassment" has been so traumatic to his daughter that she cries almost constantly and is afraid to leave the house.

"I wish to be dead than to see my little girl like this," said the unemployed restaurateur.

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