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Lobdell: Unsolved mysteries in Newport-Mesa

December 02, 2010|By William Lobdell

In recent weeks, two intriguing mysteries have emerged in Newport-Mesa that I'm dying to see solved:

1. Why were Costa Mesa Police Chief Christopher Shawkey and Capt. Ron Smith — the cop shop's leaders — put on administrative leave?

2. What were the circumstances behind the single-engine plane crash in Newport Beach's Back Bay that killed the pilot and two passengers?

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Let's first look at what happened in the Costa Mesa Police Department. Last month, City Manager Allan Roeder sent an e-mail to surprised employees.

"Police Department personnel, please be advised, as of this date Chief Shawkey and Captain Smith are on leave," Roeder wrote. "As this involves potential personnel matters, I would respectfully ask that you not speculate nor discuss this matter out of respect for these two individuals and the professional integrity of the Costa Mesa Police Department."

I predicted the real story would spill out within days, if not hours. Secrets are nearly impossible to keep at any level of government, with gossip and political maneuvering being two favorite pastimes. In Costa Mesa's case, you also have the added dynamic that the news involved the city's two top lawmen.

So what in the world happened?

It's no secret that the community hasn't exactly embraced Shawkey since he became police chief in 2007. I've heard concerns that he spent too much time in Arizona (he previously had worked at the Phoenix Police Department) and there's been speculation that his alleged absenteeism might be a reason for Shawkey being placed on leave.

I don't buy the theory because that type of problem — if indeed it even existed — could be handled more subtly than putting the police chief on leave.

The case of Smith is much more curious. The police captain — on the force for three decades — has had a storied career in Costa Mesa, solving many of city's biggest crimes over the years. He earned a reputation as a no-nonsense police officer. A cop's cop.

He's also a complex character. For instance, he's a martial arts expert and bibliophile who decided, on a whim, to only read novels with the word "and" in the title. Interesting guy.

We can deduce just a couple of things from these two being placed on administrative leave. First, it's likely that whatever caused Shawkey and Smith to be removed from active duty is related. Second, very few people are aware of the allegations — the circle must be very tight for nothing to leak out.

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