Councilman Jim Righeimer, center, addresses the media at City Hall on Friday regarding the Costa Mesa police showing up at his house on Wednesday. (BRITNEY BARNES, Daily Pilot / August 23, 2012)

A man who made a 911 call accusing Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer of driving drunk is believed to be a former Riverside police officer.

The caller identified himself to a police dispatcher as Chris Lanzillo, according to a tape of the call obtained Friday by the Daily Pilot using a state public records request.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation confirmed that Lanzillo is a former police officer who's now a private investigator.

Righeimer — who was given a brief sobriety test outside his Mesa Verde home Wednesday night and was found to be sober — tied the incident to comments he made during Tuesday's City Council meeting. At the meeting, Righeimer criticized police unions for using an Upland law firm, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir. On the firm's website is a playbook-style outline of election-year tactics that officers can use against politicians.

Lanzillo's name appeared on the firm's website as "staff," but his name was recently removed, according to cached Internet records.

"Are you kidding me? The playbook guys?" Righeimer said of the firm. "I knew I wasn't crazy. I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!"

Dieter Dammeier sent the Daily Pilot an email Friday night confirming Lanzillo worked as an investigator with his firm but that the firm had no ties to the phone call about Righeimer.

"As to your question on Lanzillo, he is one of many PIs we have used," he wrote. "He runs his own PI firm and works for various firms and entities. I assure you, he was not employed or authorized to surveil (or do anything else to) Mr. Righeimer by this firm."

Costa Mesa Police Assn. President Jason Chamness said in an email before Lanzillo was identified that his association cut ties with Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir late this week because the association was working toward a less-aggressive approach to its negotiations with the city.

"Public trust must be first and foremost between the police and the community we serve," Chamness said. "We have no intentions of allowing the police association's relationship with the public to erode."

Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir represents several police associations, including the Newport Beach Police Management Assn.

Righeimer said he placed blame for the phone call with organized labor as an institution, not with Costa Mesa's rank-and-file police officers.

"The officer was very professional here," he said. "He'd just got the call. He went. If it was guys in our department trying to set me up out there, they would've done it differently, I think."

Lanzillo could not be reached for comment, but a Riverside Press-Enterprise article from October 2010 said he was fired from the force and then sued for discrimination before being reinstated and allowed to take a medical retirement.

"In the claims, Lanzillo alleged that because of his union activities and comments he made — including some critical of an assistant chief — he was transferred to an undesirable assignment, passed over for advancement and investigated by internal affairs," the article stated. It also said the city's police chief denied the allegations.


911 transcripts

On the Costa Mesa 911 tape, the man who identified himself as Lanzillo called to report a possible drunk driver. He said he observed the driver — he doesn't name Righeimer — stumbling before getting into his SUV.

"I think he's DUI," he told the police dispatcher. "He's swerving all over the road. I don't know what's wrong with him."

In the recording, the dispatcher advised the caller not to tail the driver.