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Accused sign vandal is found not guilty

Jury foreman says video does not clearly show that Steven Charles White destroyed a campaign placard.

March 28, 2014|By Jeremiah Dobruck

An Orange County jury on Friday acquitted a former Costa Mesa city employee of vandalizing a $5 campaign sign during the contentious 2012 city election.

Prosecutors were unable to convince the 12-member panel that Steven Charles White, 40, was the one shown in a grainy video of a man destroying a political sign on a night in October 2012 and tossing it into the bushes at Fair and Columbia drives

During the trial, Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Mestman said White had a political motive and the opportunity to rip up the sign, which advertised a slate of candidates running for the City Council known as the 3Ms: Councilman Steve Mensinger, Councilman Gary Monahan and Planning Commissioner Colin McCarthy.

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White lived just around the corner from the area and had lawn signs of his own advertising competing candidates, prosecutors said.

The video shows the vandal passing up a sign for Harold Weitzberg, who ran opposed to the 3Ms.

According to testimony, Mensinger hired a private investigator, who filmed the vandalism. The councilman was also the one who called authorities with the evidence, police witnesses said.

Costa Mesa's 2012 election was heated. All sides complained of sign theft and vandalism.

Mensinger and the rest of his slate backed an initiative that would have created a charter form of governance for the city. White and many city employees opposed the charter because they felt it would have given the council too much power and threatened their jobs and pensions.

White said he was the victim in this case.

He blamed Mensinger, Monahan, McCarthy and their political allies for using him as a scapegoat during the election.

"I hope that I get a public apology," White said. "But I seriously doubt it [will happen]."

Mensinger declined to comment on White's request.

Jurors handed down their decision after about three hours of deliberations following a one-day trial Thursday at the Orange County Superior Court's Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach.

Their decision focused more on their own viewing of the video than witness testimony, which included four people saying they believed it was White on the tape, the jury foreman explained outside the courtroom.

During the trial, White hiked up his pants to show large tattoos on each of his shins.

The foreman said he and his colleagues couldn't find those tattoos on the man in the video, who was wearing shorts.

"The deciding factor was the video did not work for the prosecution," he said.

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