ENCINITAS — The San Diego County Sheriff's Department has begun an internal affairs investigation into a deputy's use of pepper spray to make an arrest at a political fundraiser.
The probe was ordered after Democratic congressional hopeful Francine Busby met with Undersheriff Bill Gore to complain about the incident Friday at a home in a Cardiff neighborhood. Busby is seeking her party's nomination for a rematch next year with Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Carlsbad) in the affluent 50th Congressional District in northern San Diego County.
"We cannot take action based on media accounts and will conduct a thorough inquiry," said Gore, who takes over as sheriff Friday when the current sheriff, Bill Kolender, retires.
The altercation began about 9 p.m. after a deputy responded to a neighbor's complaint of excessive noise. When Shari Barman, one of the home's owners, refused to give her age to the deputy, the situation deteriorated.
According to people at the fundraiser, the deputy began pulling on Barman's arm despite pleas from her partner that she had just undergone surgery. People then surrounded Barman to prevent her arrest, and one person held onto her leg to keep the deputy from escorting her to his squad car.
The deputy called for backup and used pepper spray on the crowd. Six more deputies came to the house.
Barman, 60, was arrested for allegedly assaulting a deputy. A second attendee, Pam Morgan, 62, of Rancho Santa Fe, was cited for obstructing an officer.
Busby said Monday that the deputy "clearly overreacted."
"There was no noise, there was no problem," she said. "These were middle-aged men and women talking very quietly."
Busby, a former Cardiff school board member, said some of the people at the fundraiser choked from the pepper spray and needed help from paramedics.
"We need an investigation to make sure this never happens to anyone else," she said.
Busby, 58, ran unsuccessfully against Republican Randall "Duke" Cunningham in 2004. In 2006 she ran against Bilbray, who formerly represented a congressional district south of San Diego.