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Here are comments from Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada — someone whom I truly want to respect, because it’s hard to imagine Anaheim hiring anyone much better than him in that role — about the case filed by attorneys for the family of Martin Hernandez. First, I’m going to present Quezada’s comments, a rebuttal by Anaheim neighborhood activist Zia Back, and comments from Sonia Hernandez, sister of the shooting victim. But some of what Chief Quezada has said does deserve a comment by me as a candidate for District Attorney, because the problem I have with his comments traces back to the actions of the DA’s office.
[Note: I started this piece before the shooting of Robert Moreno Jr. I wanted to hold onto it for a while until that settled down to a relative smolder and give myself a chance to consider it in light of that case. As it turned out, except for adding an epilogue I didn't have to change much.]
1. Chief Quezada’s Comments from the Anaheim PD’s “Behind the Badge” blog.
Response from Police Chief Raul Quezada regarding lawsuit related to the 2012 officer-involved shooting of Martin Angel Hernandez
Yesterday, I read inaccurate and inflammatory comments attributed to an attorney representing the mother of Martin Angel Hernandez, a gang member who was shot in 2012 after pointing a shotgun at an Anaheim Police officer. The attorney not only misrepresented the facts of the incident, which were thoroughly investigated by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, he also attempted to sully the reputation of our gang unit.
First, I would like to share the District Attorney’s Office’s findings:
On March 6, 2012, at approximately 9:48 p.m., APD Dispatch received a 911 call reporting five to six males standing outside a white car in the alley of an apartment complex on East Wakefield Street in the City of Anaheim. The caller indicated that he observed one of the males put a handgun behind the driver’s seat of the white car and a second male place a handgun in his waistband…
While discharging his duty as a police officer and in response to a citizen’s call for police assistance, Officer (Dan) Hurtado entered an alley at night with a known gang presence realizing that he would likely encounter armed gang members. Officer Hurtado then observed Hernandez, a well-documented member of a criminal street gang, armed with a shotgun, which was ultimately pointed at the officer. At the time the shotgun was pointed at the officer, the officer was in an open alley with no cover and believed, reasonably based on all the available evidence, that he was about to be shot. In addition, Officer Hurtado knew that an innocent civilian was standing in the immediate vicinity and in harm’s way. In order to neutralize the perceived threat, the officer fired his department-issued rifle. As discussed below and based on well-established law and all the known facts, it would be unreasonable and unfair to conclude that Officer Hurtado did not have justification to use his weapon in self-defense.”
I encourage anybody with questions about the case to read the DA’s nine-page investigative report:
Officer Hurtado displayed professionalism and courage in protecting an innocent bystander that evening. This case illustrates the danger our officers face and the courage that they display every day in fulfilling their sworn mission to protect and serve the community.
As Anaheim’s new police chief, my top priority continues to be engaging all segments of the community. Since the unrest that occurred in the summer of 2012, we have resumed foot patrols, have added officers to our Community Policing Teams, started a Neighborhood Advisory Council and require our officers to record all police activity.
These initiatives and others such as our Junior Cadets and other Cops 4 Kids programs are designed to build strong and trusting relationships with the community we are sworn to protect.
Our mission remains protecting the community, maintaining order and preventing crime.
Although gang crime is down significantly over the past year, and has been trending down over the past decade, the reality remains that we have gang crime issues in Anaheim. The Gang Unit has played a major role in making neighborhoods throughout the City safer for residents, business owners, children and visitors. Enforcement and investigations are not the only roles of this successful unit, however. Youth Services and Safe Schools officers work in concert with them; focusing on prevention, intervention and diversion to invest in the next generation to provide opportunities and alternatives to the gang lifestyle.
If everything that Chief Quezada says is reliable and not misleading — and if the same is true of the source material, the DA’s report, which appeared ten months after the incident — then he makes what seems like a sound case. If an officer walks into an alley at night, in a neighborhood with gang activity, and a shotgun is pointed at him, then who could really argue that he doesn’t have the right to self-defense (and in this case, defense of a nearby witness)? However, his critics offer some serious reasons for doubt about those facts — and I have my own doubts as to how thoroughly and critically those facts may have been investigated.
This article will no doubt set off yet another round of predictions that I will have lost the support of police in the upcoming elections. My reaction to that is (1) that I doubt that I will lose the best officers over demanding real investigations that may weed out the worst officers among them and (2) that anyone who makes obtaining and retaining such political support over impartially seeing justice does not deserve to be District Attorney. If anyone wants to argue that point, I will look forward to it.
2. Zia Back’s Rebuttal (taken from Facebook)
I am SO appalled and offended and upset by the commentary of APD Chief Quezada in response to the recent lawsuit filed by the Hernandez family! I feel very thoroughly slapped in the face and stabbed in the gut! His comments are a travesty to all barrio communities in Anaheim and beyond! It does not matter what “investigation” took place or what he believes was revealed in that investigation. The family has the right to file the lawsuit and therefore has the right to get answers to their questions in the setting of the Justice System.
His commentary invalidates their desire to seek Truth and Justice! Not just for the Hernandez family, but for ALL families, ALL people, ALL children who have been traumatized by the event of any OIS – fatal or not – as it has been presented to him as a well known FACT and SERIOUS CONCERN that these investigations COVER up the TRUTH, are incomplete and BIASED! There will be NO CHANGE if he backtracks so entirely on every encounter we have ever had with him as citizens to move forward! He MUST be called on this inappropriate language IMMEDIATELY – he MUST be called upon to APOLOGIZE PUBLICLY – he MUST RETRACT his commentary!
The things Chief Quezada stated negate, with an unthoughtful stinging sword, opportunities available to GRIEVING CITIZENS to seek Justice for the very people his platform for appointment was supposed to lend representation! I feel as outraged about this as I do that Kelly Thomas’ murderers are working as Little League coaches! OUTCRY!
She later added…
Keep in mind APD has CHOSEN not to murder anyone else since July 2012. If a fatal OIS were to happen now, even though the “system” currently allows them to get away with it, the public outcry would be severe. They do fear the public outcry. That is why I say: OUTCRY!!!
My heart aches for Sonia and her family. We already know going through the legal process is like living everything all over again…now the Chief has said something appalling and devastating before any horses have even left the gate. It isn’t the stereotypical justified vs not justified stigma. Quesada has reached beyond the grave to rattle unsettled bones to say not only was Martin denied Due Process on the street but that ALL FAMILIES ARE DENIED ACCESS TO THE JUDICIAL PROCESS BECAUSE HE – THE GREAT CHIEF – WILL BE THE JUDGE AND JURY AND SHAME AND INVALIDATE ANY FAMILY TRYING TO SEEK TRUTH AND JUSTICE!!! CALL HIM ON HIS EFFING SHITE!
Hurtado is unprofessional, hot headed, treats all youth as criminals, is unjust, is not a peace keeper, threatens citizens, uses inappropriate language and physical actions, has no respect for victims. ….the list goes on and all complaints against him go ignored.
So that’s how things look from the vantage of anti-police-abuse activists from the poorer parts of Anaheim. Is there merit to her outrage? Let’s continue on and see. A few comments before that though.
First: I wasn’t there, of course. And as with all but perhaps a few readers here, my information on this matter comes at best second- or third-hand. But I think that Zia presents at least one very good insight that might not occur to others. She goes after Chief Quezada personally with a fervor that I don’t share — again, I’ll explain why in a moment — but I can’t blame her for feeling that way. Those concerned about excessive use of police force in this county don’t need me to be a hell-raiser, just someone intent on honest, skeptical, and full investigations.
Zia’s central insight is undeniable: after a number of police shootings of minority youth, culminating in 2012, police shootings in Anaheim suddenly slammed to a halt in the face of public outrage. We should wonder why. It may be that the sorts of provocations that might lead to police shootings simply disappeared — but I doubt that. This change seems more likely to come from changes in police practices — ones for which, I’m informed, Quezada deserves some personal credit.
I disagree with Zia in a couple of areas. One is simple: I am strongly opposed to gang activity and I think that society has a legitimate interest in curtailing it; she may think that the cure is worse than the disease. I’ll grant various aspects of what many critics say: that minority youth get jailed and killed for things that wealthier (and mostly whiter) youth can skate away from; and I think that a society rife with drug users is hypocritical when it vilifies those who do the dirty work that people who demand drugs want them to do. All of that and more used to attack police treatment of gangs may be true — and we still need to send the message that youth need to stay out of organized crime. (I’m not going to hold them to a lesser standard than I do public officials.)
The second point of disagreement is more complicated and difficult: I think that Chief Quezada, regardless of what may be his personal beliefs and suspicions, has almost no choice but to take this sort of public position. We call this an “institutional imperative”: if he wants to keep his job, if he wants to be any sort of reformer, then this “payment” is what is expected of him. (This is the same reason that I’m more favorable than other critics towards Dan Hughes in Fullerton: he’s a Police Chief and you have to expect him to act like a Police Chief when his department is under fire, as pretty much any of them will — the variation in Chiefs is in what leadership they show otherwise to prevent these tragedies from occurring. I judge Chiefs largely on that basis.)
Most of us, in our jobs and our families and our social affiliations, recognize these sorts of institutional imperatives. Quezada presumably wants good relations with the City Council and with the police force – one member of which, remember, already came after him prior to his hire for being too much of a reformer and thus supposedly hurting morale. He has enormous institutional pressure on him, from both his bosses and his employees, to speak out now — and to do so based on the findings of the District Attorney’s offices investigation.
And that last line is critical. Had the DA’s report been critical of the Anaheim police — or had it even been equivocal about what happened — then Quezada might have had the insulation from institutional pressure to give this speech claiming a “clean bill of health” for Hurtado. Maybe he would have given the same speech anyway, maybe not — we’ll never know. But if the supposedly impartial District Attorney said that everything was OK — well, there is almost no way that Quezada could do anything else.
In describing this dynamic, I don’t intend to justify it. Ideally, everyone would be able to resist every institutional imperative, if the pressure was on them to do anything less than perfectly. But realistically, it doesn’t happen — and if you were to fire every government (or private) leader who doesn’t stand firm against institutional imperatives, you would have no one left to run such organizations. The best of them don’t jump up and suddenly “join the other side” (as our current DA sort of did once his efforts to contain the audiovisual evidence in the Kelly Thomas case failed); the best of them defend their employees right to their own due process and fair treatment while asserting, if they believe it, that they do not concede any wrongdoing.
So, given the publication of a District Attorney’s report that completely exonerated Officer Hurtado, I don’t look primarily to the Anaheim Chief of Police to take a neutral position. That’s just too much to expect. His officers would hate him (and undermine their and the city’s collective security) if he didn’t accept and publicize the exoneration of that report, once it was issued. I would hope that his position would be supportive of his institution, but respectful of the continued investigation to be done within the civil legal process.
Instead, if — if — there is a whitewash here, I blame the District Attorney’s office. I look to the office of the District Attorney to provide an honest, skeptical, and thorough report that gives him that latitude to reserve judgment if he has concerns. Obviously, as a candidate for DA, it serves my purposes to believe this — but the fact that I believe this is one main reason that I am a candidate for DA. I would ensure that my investigators listen to, and respect in substance regardless of its tone, the likes of what you’ll read just below.
3. The View from Martin Hernandez’s Sister
I recently met Sonia Hernandez, sister of the man who was shot. You may dismiss what she has to say as being said out of self-interest, as she’d benefit from a lawsuit; without coming to any conclusion myself, I think that rejecting her statement based on that sort of cynicism is gravely misplaced. I may end up disagreeing with her, but not immediately, casually, or disrespectfully.
Here’s what she had to say in several private messages which she has consented to let us publish, and which I will combine here:
Yes Martin threw the shotgun on the floor, attempted to jump the wall (without the gun) them climbed back down, turned around and put his hands up and said, “Dispensa, you got me” and Hurtado fired 3 quick shots. One shot directly through his head (the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle was so powerful, they couldn’t figure out the trajectory of the bullet) one bullet low on the wall and the other bullet was in the dumpster.
As for the disappeared videos, they seized the videos (people saw them physically take them from the apartment complex headed directly where my brother was shot.) My mom called the DA’s office everyday asking for the videos, they told her they were reviewing them, as soon as they were done they’ll “give it to her.” Then about 3 months later they told her they didn’t know what she was talking about, there was never any videos! There were 3 videos in total 2 cameras on the apartment complexes, and a city camera.
Thank you guys so much, they cannot get away with slandering my family any longer. This “officer” has been bragging about murdering my brother to so many people. He was “at least” transferred to a different area. I thank you guys for helping make that happen! Made my blood boil he was still roaming around that area.
My brother was murdered. They left his body on the alley floor for 7+ hours. I requested for them to at least put a tent or something, poor kids had to see him the next day before going to school. They shouldn’t get away with this!
4. Reconciling these statements
I’m pretty sure most Orange County voters would not be sympathetic to Sonia Hernandez’s stated position. (It’s not even close, is it?) More than any place else I can remember living, Orange Countians seem to believe that much of what they have purchased with this county’s high cost of living is personal security from physical violence for them and their loved ones. I can’t argue with that sentiment; I feel it myself.
But in pursuing that security, we cannot simply presume that the police are always right and honest and that poorer people, the children of which sometimes have criminal ties (as do those of the wealthy), are always, or even usually dishonest, and wrong. I can explain why that sort of arrogant and dismissive attitude towards the working class and poor is bad for all strata of society, because true personal security is increasingly beyond the purchasing power of by far most (and arguably any) of us and in a better armed world we increasingly depend on consensual faith in “procedural justice” — but beyond that sentence I won’t bother doing so here. I know that a mountain of social scientific evidence may fail to conquer hunches.
Instead, I’ll make one argument befitting a candidate for District Attorney: prejudging the facts is unconstitutional. It fails to grant people due process under law and equal protection of the law. It is the antithesis of “law and order.” It’s rule by force, not law. If elected, I will not stand for it. It’s great politics — the incumbent District Attorney is actually campaigning on his promotion of a gang injunction and a ban on adults on the very overinclusive “sex offenders” list from public parks, both of which were obviously, as courts have found, unconstitutional — but political consideration can’t trump the Constitution.
So I’ll be clear: as District Attorney, I will defend with all of my might any officer accused of excessive force that a honest, skeptical, and thorough investigation indicates is innocent. But I’m not going to hand out clean bills of health if I can’t back them up — and I’m going to listen to the concerns of the family and deceased in assessing whether I can honestly assert that justice was done.
In the Hernandez case, several serious questions remain. The most important is: DID Martin Hernandez abandon his sole firearm and surrender to police prior to being shot? If he didn’t, then this case is not a close call — the shooting was justified. If he did — if officer Hurtado shot him knowing that he was disarmed — then what would you call it? Even my liberal friends tell me not to call it a “summary execution” — but if that’s what happened then that’s exactly what it is. (If you think that that term is ugly, a bullet through the brain is more so.) If true, it is murder if the officer was clear-headed and acted intentionally; perhaps manslaughter if he was too hyped up to think straight.
How, at this late date, can we tell? Go back to Sonia’s statement:
As for the disappeared videos, they seized the videos (people saw them physically take them from the apartment complex headed directly where my brother was shot. My mom called the DA’s office everyday asking for the videos, they told her they were reviewing them, as soon as they were done they’ll “give it to her.” Then about 3 months later they told her they didn’t know what she was talking about, there was never any videos! There were 3 videos in total 2 cameras on the apartment complexes, and a city camera.
Again, I wasn’t there. I hadn’t been following this case until recently. For all I know, Sonia could be completely deluded about this missing critical evidence — although I doubt it. She claims to have witnesses — and as DA I would want to know her allegations and ensure that they were investigated. At least three people should have known very clearly that that was her story: Anaheim’s Chief of Police, the DA’s investigator, and the DA himself. And Chief Quezada’s statement should have – HAD TO – address the assertion that his department obtained the sole copies of, and then lost (or hid or destroyed), and then denied ever having, evidence that could well have settled the question of whether Hernandez had surrendered when he was shot. The omission of such an allegation from Quezada’s remarks is outrageous. (Even though, as I’ve said before, I generally admire and have high hopes for the new Chief.)
What role did the videos that Sonia Hernandez asserts went missing play in the DA’s report? We can find that answer in the last full paragraph on page 1 of the report (which is, again, available at the link in Chief Quezada’s comments.) This discusses the 60 interviews and many categories of physical evidence that they reviewed. Audio recordings are listed. Crime scene photographs are listed. Video recordings are not listed. Maybe that’s just an (really unfortunate) oversight; there is mention of a witnesses’s cell phone video of Hernandez dead on the ground on page 3. Anyone in the DA’s office — right up to the DA — who knew the concerns of the sister of the victim should have had their eyes out for such mentions. Officer-involved fatal shootings should be taken extremely seriously.
Sonia Hernandez is accusing the Anaheim Police Department of absolutely heinous acts. If they’re true, and such lost evidence is business as usual in Anaheim, then people need to be fired. If they’re unusual occurrences that just happened to take place in a controversial officer-involved shooting, then simply being fired is far milder than what should happen next. I’d still like to know: is Sonia wrong? What actually happened with this evidence?
The sense I get — and certainly the sense of people in the poorer areas of the flatlands — is that the police have faith that the District Attorney’s investigation will almost always clear them of wrongdoing in their dealings with gang members (or those who look like them. Before the current DA would consider prosecuting the police, the killing would pretty much have to be on videotape, with a soundtrack, and he would have had to fail in his efforts to keep it from becoming public. And that provides no deterrence of bad police behavior.
Who suffers when police misbehavior is covered up? First of all — and, OC voters, I hope that I have your attention here – it’s the police themselves!
Think about it: if Martin Hernandez had wanted to kill Officer Hurtado that night, Hurtado would probably be dead. From Quezada’s own narrative:
“Hurtado entered an alley at night with a known gang presence realizing that he would likely encounter armed gang members. Officer Hurtado then observed Hernandez, a well-documented member of a criminal street gang, armed with a shotgun, which was ultimately pointed at the officer. At the time the shotgun was pointed at the officer, the officer was in an open alley with no cover and believed, reasonably based on all the available evidence, that he was about to be shot. … In order to neutralize the perceived threat, the officer fired his department-issued rifle.”
Why didn’t Hernandez shoot Hurtado? His sister’s story is straightforward: he had already dropped the shotgun, tried and failed to scale the wall, and then surrendered as Hurtado approached him — as she says video evidence would prove. (Sonia may not like this, but even Hernandez announcing his surrender wouldn’t be enough to render Hurtado’s firing unjustified — because a person can lie about surrendering.) Then, she alleges, Hurtado shot him anyway.
Hurtado’s story is that Hernandez never tried to scale the wall; that he was running for the dumpster that would allow him to do so, but then stopped short and, rather than surrendering, started to aim at Hurtado. (Hurtado reportedly yelled the command to surrender repeatedly before he shot — although if Hernandez was running it’s not clear how quickly he could have stopped even had he wanted to surrender. Maybe he really thought that he could turn around, raise a shotgun, and get the drop on a well-armed officer who was already facing him. If so, he wasn’t likely thinking clearly — but that would still exonerate Hurtado.)
Two points: first, Sonia’s account — and the evidentiary basis for her allegations — belong in the report. I’m sorry, but especially after the Kelly Thomas killing we should realize that family members will sometimes investigate more forcefully and resourcefully than the police and DA. We don’t have to believe what they come up with, but we should respect their efforts enough to address them. And that is what the civil trial is about: a (we should hope) neutral institution assessing the facts. I don’t have a problem with Chief Quezada saying that the department stands by its statements and actions and refusing further comment. But his accusations of “inaccurate and inflammatory comments … misrepresented the facts of the incident, which were thoroughly investigated” — that’s going much further than he personally can possibly know. It’s unnecessary and just adds to the public perception that he as the Chief, and the OCDA’s office, prejudged the case.
Second, here’s why that’s a big problem: If such official actions leave a credible possibility that Hurtado shot Hernandez after he surrendered, then the next guy with a shotgun in that sort of position is now more likely to fire it. The next officer in Hurtado’s situation is more likely to be dead — because the message delivered is that surrendering won’t spare your life. Presuming, as I would like to do, that that message isn’t true, it is worth bending over backwards to allow the fullest possible investigation through the courts to reassure the public that justice was done. Quezada’s comments move us in the opposite direction.
Who else gets hurt by the failure to apprehend a suspect alive when possible? Everyone else who looks like, or could be mistaken for in the heat of the moment, someone like Martin Hernandez. Because if the police think that they have to be quicker on the trigger to save their own lives, they they will inevitably be more likely to shoot some people that they will later wish that they hadn’t shot. The greater the speed, the lesser the accuracy — in identification as well as in targeting; that’s a basic trade-off. The practical effect is that more innocent people, who were wrongly identified as threats, will get killed.
We want both sides to want such situations to end with non-violent surrender — which is most likely if the suspects have faith that they won’t get killed right there and that they will receive a fair trial. That is part of what a Police Chief — and a District Attorney — are supposed to ensure. It’s not happening to the satisfaction of people in communities whose children are getting shot by police. If the DA cares that things get done right — regardless of whether the public cares — then the police will do a better job of toeing the line. That would be good for everyone.
5. Epilogue: the Police Shooting of Robert Moreno Jr.
The District Attorney’s investigation of the shooting of Robert Moreno Jr. likely will not be completed for some time. Obviously, given my comments here, I’m not going to prejudge it. (Those critics who say that I’ve concluded that some unproven possible facts are true are simply being foolish, if not actively stupid; one aim of an investigation is to rule out reasonable alternative scenarios. That’s why one gets the facts before any conclusion.) But already, the outlines of the narratives on both sides are pretty clear.
The police say that Moreno Jr. was found on the street with two people of interest to a pair of probation officers. He turned and fired a gun at them, missing, and then threatened others as he made his escape. He subsequently hid from police either in or behind a dumpster. A group of police, one of whom had the K-9 officer “Bruno” on a 20-foot leash, came into the vicinity of the dumpster. Bruno signaled his handler that someone — presumably the suspect they wanted — was hiding there. Moreno Jr. shot and wounded Bruno; police then shot and killed Moreno.
As I’ve written here a couple of times already, this scenario seems pretty plausible to me. But I do have some questions — questions that, for all I know, have already been answered convincingly by a fair and skeptical investigation. Or, maybe they haven’t been.
First, they recovered his gun, right? Without the gun, the story is less compelling. For one thing, we’d want to know that the bullet extracted from Bruno’s chest matches the ballistics of the gun. We’d want to rule out the possibility that Bruno was shot accidentally by friendly fire. (Critics like Zia Back assert that this is exactly what happened here — I am not clear on what evidence she thinks she has other than its basic plausibility.) The bullet — please, God, don’t let them lose the bullet — should let us settle that question.
But let’s assume for now that Moreno Jr. did shoot Bruno before he himself was shot, enough time beforehand to allow for a pause for police to register Bruno’s being shot and then at least a second or two for planning before what happened next. One person following the case fixed on a statement from the Anaheim Police Department spokesperson: that only one of the officers fired at Moreno Jr. Perhaps the understanding that I share with that person is incorrect, but I thought that in such a situation if one officer shoots then they all shoot.
There could be a benign explanation for only one officer shooting: maybe only one officer had the right angle to see Moreno Jr., who was at least partially hidden. Or there could be a very bad explanation: that Moreno Jr. no longer had a gun — maybe never had a gun — and that he was shot in the heat of the moment by an officer livid at the possibly fatal shooting of Bruno. And that simply cannot be allowed to happen. That’s not why we give police officers weapons. That is not only wrong, but ultimately makes everyone less safe.
I suspect that the story offered by the police is substantially correct — but those are troubling questions. I have little doubt, though, that the investigation by the District Attorney’s Office will find the shooting to be justified — and that while those questions may be satisfactorily answered, they also may be glossed over or entirely ignored.
I wish that I felt — and that Zia Back and Sonia Hernandez felt — that the DA’s report on the shooting would be reliable – but given the department’s track record, recently besmirched by the “prison informant scandal” affecting the Seal Beach mass murderer, I just don’t have faith in it. I don’t say that because I’m a candidate, but merely as a citizen.
How can such investigations be done so that they will convince even critics? I don’t know offhand — but I do know how to find out what the best practices are in other departments, whether that skeptical dispassion is popular with the public or not. We have wonderful criminologists and other sociologists in Southern California and beyond who can advise us on how to develop maximally trustworthy procedures — and, as a trained social scientist, I speak their language. I can understand and implement such best practices — and ensure that the attorneys in the Department internalize them. That cultural shift would pay dividends for the County long after my time in office ended.
I promise the public this much: if and when I clear the police of any wrongdoing in the shooting of Robert Moreno Jr., I plan to be able to do so in a transparent and thorough way that should leave even skeptics and critics like Zia and Sonia convinced, because I will listen to their perspectives and impartially investigate any reasonable accusations.
That’s the way that things should be. I think that my doing the job right will be good for Orange County.