OC district attorney accused of making racist remarks in case of Black defendant

Jessica De Nova Image
Friday, February 18, 2022
OCDA accused of making racist remarks in case of Black defendant
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Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer is being accused of making racist remarks while discussing a high-profile murder case last year.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer is being accused of making racist remarks while discussing a high-profile murder case last year.

According to a memo obtained by Eyewitness News, the comments were made during a meeting regarding the case of Jamon Buggs. Buggs was charged with murdering two people due to alleged jealousy over an ex-girlfriend, who is white.

The memo, which was written by former Senior Assistant District Attorney Brahim Baytieh in Dec. 2021, stated the purpose of the meeting was for senior prosecutors to recommend appropriate punishment for Buggs, who is a Black man.

The recommendations were either life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.

According to the memo, Spitzer asked about the race of the defendant's prior female girlfriends and or victims. He allegedly said, "He knows many Black people who get themselves out of their bad circumstances and bad situations by only dating white women."

The memo alleges when Baytieh spoke out and said discussion about the race of the victims in this decision could implicate the Racial Justice Act, Spitzer responded with an anecdote of his time in college where one of his fellow Black students only dated white women "on purpose to get himself out of his bad circumstances and situations."

Baytieh was fired last week.

Eyewitness News reached out to the Orange County District Attorney's Office who said in a statement, "The senior prosecutor was removed from his position after the DA's office received the results of an independent investigation into another murder case, for which the DA's office was forced to concede a new trial for the defendant, Paul Gentile Smith."

Below is the entire Feb. 9 statement from Spitzer:

"I made it unequivocally clear when I ran for Orange County District Attorney that I would not tolerate the "win at all costs" mentality of the prior administration. My prosecutors will not violate the Constitution and the rights of defendants in order to get convictions.

On August 5, 2021, I was forced to make the difficult decision to concede a new trial to a Paul Gentile Smith who was convicted of a murder in 2010 in which he is accused of brutally mutilating his victim and setting him on fire. He had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This decision was as a result of allegations that a prosecutor failed under the prior administration to turn over information about an informant to the defense.

I immediately hired an independent law firm to investigate whether there was a failure by the prosecutor to properly turn over discovery and whether the prosecutor was truthful in all subsequent and related inquiries by the United States Department of Justice.

[On Feb. 8,] that independent investigation was completed. As a result of those findings, the prosecutor is no longer employed by the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Feb. 16, that addressed the leaked memos with allegations of racist remarks, Spitzer wrote in part:

"The case at hand is not a race-neutral case. Race was prominently argued by the defense attorneys and any discussions about race pertained directly to the facts of the case. That is indisputable. This prosecutor continued to operate outside of the established protocols of the office's Special Circumstances Committee and unilaterally act in a way that once again failed to follow the rules.

The statement went on to say, "Under my administration, we don't hide evidence and with the newly implemented Racial Justice Act, the entire criminal justice system is in uncharted territory. There is no legal precedence and no direction. Out of an abundance of caution in order to protect our case against a man charged with shooting and killing two people he had never met, we took the information to Court for a judge to decide how to proceed."

Robert Ponce, a legal fellow with the ACLU of Southern California, spoke with ABC7 on Thursday and said if the allegations are true, Spitzer indeed violated the Racial Justice Act.

"It appears as though [Spitzer] was considering how his office could strategically take advantage of the racial biases within his own community during the course of Mr. Buggs' case," he said. "I think that it's ugly, and it's in violation, likely, of the California Racial Justice Act if these statements are deemed to have been true."

Ponce adds that regardless of what happened, if the remarks were made, further investigation into the culture of the OCDA's office and its past prosecution is necessary.

"Defense attorneys are going to be able to request more information of the office," he said. "If this allegation is true, there should be more investigation prospectively ordered by the Attorney General of State into how this office is functioned and whether race is a basis for how they're seeking to strategize on a case, or charging, or sentencing. Then, prospectively from there, attorneys will be able to seek further remedy or further justice under the California Racial Justice Act."

Eyewitness News reached out to the office of the California Attorney General to see whether they're investigating and the following statement was issued:

"We are aware of the matter. Bottom line: An individual's race should never be the basis for a charging decision - not in California or anywhere. At this point, no updates to provide on our end."