Costa Mesa police officers are challenging the accuracy of critical statements made about them in a campaign mailer produced in support of two City Council candidates.
The mailer sent by the campaigns for Councilman Steve Mensinger and Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy accuse police officers of "stalking" council members, trying to set up Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer for a false DUI and refusing to negotiate with the city regarding pension reforms.
"Whomever put out that mail piece either failed to research the facts or was intentionally untruthful to thousands of Costa Mesans," said Jason Chamness, president of the Costa Mesa Police Officers Assn. (CMPOA).
McCarthy and Mensinger on Monday stood by the accuracy of their political piece.
"It's all based on verifiable facts that have been public for some time," McCarthy said.
"The Costa Mesa Police Association is apparently powerful enough to get the Pilot to use its scarce resources to report on a single campaign flier while ignoring for days that out-of-town unions have poured a record $480,000 in campaign funds into this year's Costa Mesa elections," Mensinger said in an email.
This is the flier language in dispute:
"Costa Mesa's police officers are the highest paid officers in Orange County, and they refuse to sit down and discuss the reforms necessary to reduce overtime and fix out-of-control pension costs. Instead they have resorted to intimidation and strong-arm tactics, like stalking council members and making false DUI accusations, to bully the council into giving them what they want."
Stalking is against the law.
However, McCarthy says the flier is referring to a private investigator who used to work for the police union's law firm. It is the P.I. who stalked Righeimer, he alleged, not sworn police officers.
"It's accusing the private investigator of a crime, and the D.A.'s looking into the case against the private investigator," McCarthy said.
The passage references a false drunk driving accusation made against Righeimer in August in which a Menifee-based private investigator called police and said the councilman was swerving in his SUV and appeared to be driving drunk, even though Righeimer has said he only had Diet Coke to drink. The investigator worked for law firm Lackie, Dammeier & McGill, which at the time represented CMPOA, although it was unclear who he was working for the night of the DUI call.
The police association denied commissioning someone to follow the mayor pro tem and cut ties with the firm, saying they wanted to move away from the aggressive tactics associated with Lackie, Dammeier & McGill. The Orange County district attorney is reviewing the case, and so far the investigator has not been charged.
McCarthy said the tie between the police association and investigator from Riverside County clearly illustrates that Costa Mesa police were behind the DUI call.
"The pieces of the puzzle connect that it was a private investigator for the Lackie, Dammeier law firm [that] followed home a council member," McCarthy said.
Chamness said no one in the CMPD has been accused of participating in the alleged setup.
"Fact: I have seen no such accusations made by any official that a Costa Mesa police officer filed a false police report against any council member especially, Jim Righeimer, for DUI," he said. "That is simply an untrue statement."
As to the flier's claims that police refused to meet with the city over pension reform, a memo from the same law firm seems to suggest a willingness to negotiate.
"The POA expressed a concern that given this pension is not competitive in Orange County, the city will have difficulty recruiting quality police officers," lawyer Dieter Dammeier said regarding the second-tier pension in the Aug. 14 memo. "Nevertheless, the POA realizes the City Council will not hire police officers until there is a new pension tier."
Chamness said the city and association did meet on compensation, adding that the city did not bring up the issue of overtime in negotiations.