Sheriff officials' texts show disdain, combative view toward gun activists
A series of messages detail sheriffs' officials disparaging activists and county supervisors protesting new gun policies.
By NORBERTO SANTANA Jr. and TONY SAAVEDRA
The Orange County Register
Transcripts of text messages sent by Orange County sheriff's officials during a November 2008 Board of Supervisors meeting shows the law enforcement leaders used their cell phones to ridicule activists and even supervisors during a public hearing on gun permit policies.
The messages, obtained under a public records request by a group named Ordinary California Citizens Concerned With Safety, reveal a combative tone by sheriff's command staff toward the activists. Some county supervisors questioned whether that defensiveness triggered the large security presence that met activists when they returned to a January meeting seeking to again criticize Sheriff Sandra Hutchens' gun policies.
"We are locked in mortal battle…It is ugly. We will survive however," wrote Assistant Sheriff Mike Hillmann as he sat in the audience at 1:17 pm during the November 18 board meeting.
Hillmann, a former LAPD deputy chief recruited by Hutchens to help reform Orange County's troubled department, made fun of County Supervisor Janet Nguyen – a vocal critic of Hutchen's CCW policies. Hillmann texted: "I hope Janet has a pet she can call a friend."Click picture to enlarge email scan to readable size
Scan 1 Redacted: An OCSD Employee calls those speaking at the 11-18-08 BOS meeting ‘idiots’. Does the OCSD LT. tell this person to ‘knock it off’? No. The temperature of their coffee is of more importance.
Nguyen said she was shocked by the tone of the texts and was having her staff review more than 300 pages of the messages.
"It clearly shows the attitude that's over at that department. It shows no respect," Nguyen said. "It shows clearly they have no respect for us as a governing body, much less the residents."
Sheriff Hutchens apologized for what she called the unprofessional conduct of staff members, but stressed the opinions revealed by the text messages had nothing to do with the increased security at the next CCW hearing. Hutchens added that she appreciated the input from those who disagree with her concealed weapons policies.
"Clearly, I do not condone comments that were made on the emails and I have admonished those that participated in that as being unprofessional conduct and I do not expect that to occur again," Hutchens said. She said the department policy is that agency-issued Blackberries are to be used for business only.
By the next meeting on gun permit issues on January 13, gun activists were confronted by a very different boardroom.
Large placards in the front lobby read, "No Firearms allowed." Responding to a series of unspecified threats, numerous plainclothes investigators and uniformed SWAT deputies were out in full force. Activists wearing green buttons that read CCW said they felt intimidated as they approached the dais to offer comments. Three people wearing green buttons were questioned but no one was detained and no firearms were confiscated.
Supervisor Chris Norby said the texts gave credence to accusations that sheriff's officials increased security at that meeting to stifle opposition.
"I think they were surprised, taken aback (by the Nov. 18 meeting) and when they thought it was going to be repeated, they treated that as a security issue," Norby said.
He also said the text messages raises questions about the command staff.
Click picture to enlarge email scan to readable size
Scan 11 Redacted: In an exchange with Assistant Sheriff Hillmann, an OCSD Employee ridicules a speaker at the 11-18-08 BOS meeting, calling him ‘CREEPY!!’ Does Sheriff Hillmann tell the employee to knock it off? No. He joins in and adds to the ridicule of a law abiding citizen.
"It sounds like there is a serious control issue there," Norby said. "These are her top deputies that advise her and (they are texting) at county expense and on county equipment and they are belittling the public."
During the Nov. 18 meeting, hundreds of concealed weapons activists showed up to let supervisors know they opposed the new policies adopted by Hutchens. After taking office, Hutchens announced she would tighten the permit policies relaxed during the tenure of former Sheriff Mike Carona.
That has triggered a fierce backlash by activists, the National Rifle Association and even the board of supervisors.
During the November hearing, one by one, a row of activists took to the microphone at the board of supervisors and told Hutchens that her policies were unfair and a bad fit for a county known as Republican and pro-second Amendment. The meeting lasted hours and by the end, most county supervisors had joined in criticizing Hutchens' approach to the gun permits.
The emails released to the activist group highlight how uncomfortable Sheriff's officials were at the hearing.Click picture to enlarge email scan to readable size
Scan 12 Redacted: An OCSD Employee ridicules a speaker at the 11-18-08 BOS meeting.
Shortly after 2 pm, at the November meeting, R.J. Morris, a CCW activist who had applied for a gun permit, got up to offer his critique.
Sheriff's officials immediately cyber-insulted Morris, who wears a bow tie and tinted glasses, through a series of text messages.
"Is that Elton John?" wrote department spokesman Damon Micalizzi.
One secretary sent Hillmann a message, "That guy that is up speaking now is CREEPY!! Nice hair and nice bow tie."
Hillmann replied, "That is the new investigator and gang officer attire."
Morris, 56, who is a airline transport pilot, said he was "shocked" at the lack of professionalism in the email communications. The North Tustin resident was also deeply hurt given the fact that he has expressed interest in helping the department upgrade its air squadron.
"It makes me feel embarrassed that I've supported the sheriff," said Morris. "It makes me look like a fool."
Morris, who was among the most neutral of department critics on the gun policy issue, insists that "just because we're at odds with the administration, it in no means degrades our appreciation to the men and women who serve."
Nevertheless, assistant sheriff Hillmann, toward the end of a long hearing, texted an agent with the FBI: "This has been unbelievable. Am ready to stick a pencil in my eye."Click picture to enlarge email scan to readable size
Scan 5 Redacted: Assistant Sheriff Hillmann comments, in regards to the day of citizens addressing their elected representatives, ‘Am ready to stick a pencil in my eye.’
Although the text messages showed a defensiveness among high-level sheriff's officials, Hutchens said she does not see the department as being engaged in combat with the CCW advocates.
"I don't see them as enemies. I see it as a healthy debate," Hutchens said. "If anybody needs to be listening it's me."
Yeah, sure. A healthy debate like in "I speak, you stupid peons shut up and listen, otherwise I'll sick my deputies on you"
Sheriff deputies are intimidating, then mocking and ridiculing concealed weapon permit supporters who happen to be the same law abiding people paying their salaries. Ordinary law-abiding citizens exercise their Constitutionally guaranteed first amendment rights and address their duly elected leaders. And the OCSD views this as “WE ARE LOCKED IN MORTAL COMBAT”?!? What third world dictatorship does OCSD think they are ruling?
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