Lost endorsements, calls to resign: Todd Spitzer’s racist comments fallout in OC

Orange County Dist. Atti. Todd Spitzer is losing political support and facing calls to resign after racist comments he made while discussing the case of a black murder defendant came to light last week.

With a primary election against two former prosecutors slated for June, it’s unclear how much the comments will ultimately hurt Spitzer, especially in Orange County, where tough-on-crime candidates are typically popular.

But the fallout from the comments put Spitzer on the defensive, with other district attorneys dropping their endorsements and a civil rights leader saying Spitzer’s views smack of Jim Crow South.

“It could be a turning point in a much bigger story, or a flashpoint that gets a lot of attention and then gets forgotten long before the ballots are counted. It remains to be seen what it is,” said Jodi Balma, professor of political science at Fullerton College. “History is littered with premature political obituaries, and I don’t think anyone should write one for Spitzer.”

Spitzer made the comments Oct. 1 during a meeting with top prosecutors on whether to pursue the death penalty against black defendant Jamon Buggs.

Spitzer said black men date white women to “get out of their bad circumstances and bad situations,” according to a memo from then-prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh, who was fired by Spitzer this month. .

Spitzer told The Times that Baytieh misquoted him, and he actually described black men’s motivation to date white women as enhancing “their stature in the community.”

Spitzer apologized on Monday, saying he “used an insensitive example.”

“I’m not perfect, but a nonsensical comment during an hour-long debate in a double murder case does not reflect my core beliefs or the years I’ve spent fighting to make our society fairer and our safe communities for all,” Spitzer said in a statement.

Last week, after The Times and other publications detailed Spitzer’s comments, Riverside County Dist. Atti. Mike Hestrin withdrew his endorsement, describing the comments as “shocking, disappointing and ultimately inexcusable”.

District attorneys for San Diego and Alameda counties also rescinded their endorsements of Spitzer.

One of Spitzer’s opponents, Pete Hardin, called on him to resign.

On Tuesday, a dozen activists gathered outside Spitzer’s office in Santa Ana, waving signs that read “#NoRacismInOC” and chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Todd Spitzer has to go.”

Darlene Futrel, president of the Orange County chapter of the National Action Network, said Spitzer’s comments destroyed the credibility of law enforcement in the eyes of people of color.

“Although Spitzer denies that he is racist and that his comments are racist, there is a passage in a famous book that says you will know a tree by the fruit it bears,” Futrel said, paraphrasing a Bible verse. .

Rick Callender, president of the NAACP of the California and Hawaii State Conference, called Spitzer’s views “Klan like” and said he should resign immediately.

“DA Spitzer’s disgusting and outrageously racist beliefs disqualify him from being an elected official at any level,” Callender wrote in a statement. “No member of modern civilized society would support or even tolerate these kinds of Jim Crow views and statements.”

Some Spitzer supporters have defended him, arguing that race is unfairly used as a political weapon.

“The fact is, Todd has been a great district attorney, not just to the black community, but to all people of color and Orange County residents in general,” said Bobby McDonald, chairman of the Black House. of Orange County.

Experts say while the loss of endorsements is unusual in a district attorney race, many voters may not mind it much, especially when it comes to a candidate like Spitzer with wide recognition. name.

Spitzer, a Republican who served as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office, has a three-decade political career in Orange County, serving on a school board, county board of supervisors and state assembly. , all without losing an election.

In 2018, he won the district attorney job against incumbent Tony Rackauckas, largely over a scandal over the use of jailhouse informants.

On Tuesday, Tracy Miller, a former prosecutor in Spitzer’s office, filed a lawsuit against the county in which she alleges Spitzer made “non-racially neutral statements.”

In June 2020, according to Miller’s lawsuit, Spitzer allegedly suggested that a prosecutor be assigned to a case because she was black.

Spitzer also allegedly said he needed “a brown or black face” to accompany him to an NAACP event, according to the lawsuit.

Buggs is accused of shooting Darren Partch in a Newport Beach apartment, along with Partch’s friend Wendi Miller, in April 2019.

Prosecutors believe Buggs’ motive was jealousy of an ex-girlfriend, who is white.

At the Oct. 1 meeting on whether to pursue the death penalty, prosecutors discussed prior domestic violence allegations against Buggs.

Spitzer asked about the race of Buggs’ former girlfriends, then commented on why black men date white women, even after Baytieh warned the topic was irrelevant and inappropriate. , according to Baytieh’s memo, dated Dec. 3.

Spitzer fired Baytieh, who was once a close adviser, citing an investigation into whether Baytieh hid evidence from defense attorneys in another murder case.

The following week, Baytieh’s memos outlining Spitzer’s comments were leaked to the media. Baytieh is running to be a judge on the Superior Court of Orange County.

Spitzer said in an interview last week that he posed the questions at the October meeting to address the possible issue of cross-racial identification — the extent to which Buggs, as a black male, could identify a white woman like Miller.

Baytieh argued in a Dec. 22 memo that Spitzer’s comments should be disclosed to defense attorneys because of a state law prohibiting the use of race to seek a conviction or impose a sentence.

On January 26, Spitzer announced that he was reassigning the Buggs case to a new prosecutor and supervisor. He also isolated the new prosecution team from the old team.

The next day, the new prosecutor filed a court filing stating that his office was not pursuing the death penalty against Buggs.

Acting Newport Beach Court Police Lt. Depweg wrote in a letter filed in court this month that he warned Spitzer’s homicide division chief that “it was disappointing that he and so many of his colleagues are trying to cover this up, as we all know that a cover-up is always worse than a crime.

Prosecutors did not notify Partch’s mother, Brenda Partch, of the death penalty being dropped, despite a victims’ rights law requiring families to be told about crucial decisions, her attorney, Rick Welsh, said. .

“It was beautiful for her,” Welsh said. “She is so sad and angry. She feels like that man who killed her son won.

Los Angeles Times

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