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No wrongdoing found in 'stink eye' case

Councilman and resident's accusations allege officers drove past them three times and took pictures during the November election season.

April 06, 2011|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com

COSTA MESA — Accusations from a city councilman and a resident that police intimidated them during the November 2010 electoral season for supporting then-candidate Jim Righeimer were unfounded, an outside investigation concluded.

In a letter to Councilman Eric Bever and resident Chris Eric on March 21, officials with the Costa Mesa Police Department's internal affairs division said that an investigation by Norman A. Traub Associates had cleared officers of any wrongdoing.

Bever and Eric claimed that two officers in a squad car cruised by them three times and took pictures of them as they posted Righeimer campaign signs on a chain-link fence off Superior Boulevard and 17th Street.

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The dust-up became known in town as "the stink eye incident."

"They gave me a hard look," Eric, a Costa Mesa resident for 50 years, said days after the alleged incident. "The stink eye."

The accusations were a part of the campaign theatrics surrounding the City Council elections in November. The police officers' association campaigned furiously against Righeimer, driving a mobile billboard throughout the city that directed the public to a website that questioned the candidate's financial background and politics.

Righeimer made it known early in the campaign season that he would take aim at city employee pensions, a promise that has come to fruition through mass layoff notices issued last month that could outsource half of the city's workforce.

The voter intimidation inquiry was the second city-backed investigation of the season, preceded by calls from police officers to investigate Righeimer for allegedly confronting authorities at a DUI checkpoint because he didn't like the checkpoints' timing or location.

This investigation, like the DUI checkpoint one, found little to support the claims, according to the Police Department letter.

"These findings are based on information developed and received during the investigation," wrote Lt. Allen Huggins from the professional standards unit that handles internal affairs. "Unfortunately, due to legal restraints, I am not at liberty to discuss the details of the investigation with you."

Huggins then thanked the men for bringing their concerns to the department.

"The city of Costa Mesa strives for excellence, and it is only through feedback from the community that we can truly measure our effectiveness and take the appropriate action to improve our services."

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