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Officer who ran against O.C.'s sheriff is demoted, then quits

Lt. Bill Hunt, who served in San Clemente, calls Carona's action `political retaliation.'

December 28, 2006|Garrett Therolf | Times Staff Writer

Orange County sheriff's Lt. Bill Hunt, who unsuccessfully challenged his boss in this year's election, said Wednesday that he has resigned after being told that he would be demoted to patrolman because of his criticism of Sheriff Michael S. Carona during the campaign.

Hunt had served since 2003 as the sheriff's chief of police services in San Clemente. City leaders, deputies and residents widely praised his tenure, but Carona's administration said Hunt deserved demotion -- along with a pay cut of at least 33% -- because he made comments in the rough-and-tumble campaign that went beyond those protected by the 1st Amendment.

"Obviously, this smacks of political retaliation," said Hunt, who is vacationing with his family in Big Bear.

Hunt, who had been suspended with pay since the day after the June primary election, fought Carona's moves to discipline him.

On Friday, he traveled to the sheriff's headquarters in Santa Ana to hear the department's final decision on his fate. Hunt was told that he would be assigned to patrol the city of Stanton, and he was directed to report for duty Tuesday.

His salary would have been cut from $115,000 to some amount less than $77,000.

"I have nothing against patrol, but I have no desire to go back 15 years in my career," Hunt said.

Hunt, a 1985 graduate of the Orange County Sheriff's Academy, worked as a patrolman, a jailhouse guard, a gang and narcotics investigator and a longtime member and supervisor of the SWAT team before assuming his post in San Clemente, with its 60,000 residents.

He submitted his retirement papers Friday.

Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino declined to comment on the demotion and said Carona was unavailable for comment.

"We're disappointed inasmuch as Lt. Hunt was a very good chief of police services in San Clemente," said City Council member G. Wayne Eggleston. "I wouldn't want to stop in Stanton, much less patrol it."

Hunt was recently licensed as a private investigator and said he will open his business in a Santa Ana office building next week.

He said he also plans to file a lawsuit against Carona seeking damages.

"What he did is against the law," Hunt said.

During the campaign, Hunt charged that the credibility of Carona's administration had been damaged by a series of scandals, including the misuse of badges by the sheriff's political allies who had been made honorary deputies.

Carona was supported by most area politicians and, by a bare margin, the county Republican Party. Hunt was backed by the deputies union.

Carona won 50.9% of the vote in the primary, allowing him to avoid a runoff in November.

Hunt captured 26.5% of the vote, ahead of two other candidates.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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