Hate Crimes Rising in Orange County, Report Says

Hate crimes in Orange County, California, are on the rise, according to an annual report released by the Orange County Human Relations Commission. The 2019 Hate Crimes Report, which was made public during an Oct. 20 webinar, showed that 83 hate crimes took place in Orange County in 2019 compared to 67 a year earlier—a 24 percent increase and the biggest jump in the last five years. The report also showed that during the same time period hate incidents declined, from 165 incidents in 2018 to 156 in 2019. Hate crimes are defined by California law as criminal acts that are motivated by disability, gender, nationality, race, religion, or sexual orientation. In comparison, hate incidents are noncriminal behaviors motivated by the same characteristics as the crimes, many of which are protected by the First Amendment right to free expression. The Hate Crimes Report was developed using information gathered from 19 law enforcement agencies, 24 educational institutions, and five community-based organizations. Michael Reynolds, chair of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, wrote that “in publishing this annual Hate Crime Report, we are confronted by the fact that hate crimes continue to rise.” “We can— and we must—do better,” Reynolds stated. “It is our hope that this report will inform ongoing conversations in different spaces about the need to support hate victims and, as a community, to commit to treat one another as we individually would want to be treated.” The report documented that the most frequently reported hate crimes in the county were those motivated by targeting a victim’s race, ethnicity, and/or national origin, which account for 47 percent overall. Of those motivated by race, 53 percent—or 16 documented incidents—were committed against black people. Anti-Hispanic sentiment motivated 30 percent or nine cases, while anti-Asian actions followed with 17 percent of racially motivated hate crimes. Hate crimes motivated by religion followed, accounting for 28 percent of the total. The Jewish population reported 11 documented incidents, or 52 percent of the crimes due to religion, while Catholics, Christians, and Muslims each accounted for 14 percent, or three cases apiece, of total religiously motivated crimes. Hate crimes due to sexual orientation were next at 18 percent. In this category, 14 documented reports—or 78 percent—were due to anti-gay sentiments. Nearly three-quarters of the hate incidents involved hate speech or harassment, according to the report. Religion, race or ethnicity, and sexual orientation or gender combined to motivate all of the incidents. Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel addressed the audience during the webinar on the importance of the annual report. “The county produces and publishes this hate crime report annually to increase awareness, strengthen hate crime prevention programming, and promote a tolerant community,” Steel said. “Now more than ever, it is important for Orange County to come together and embrace our diversity. We must remain committed to respecting all people regardless of their background by identifying hate crimes and instances of racial, religious, and ethnic tensions.” Brian Levin is the director and founder of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University–San Bernardino. He spoke at length during the presentation, breaking down the statistics. “The increase in Orange County appears to be greater than what we’ve seen nationally,” Levin said. The report indicates that the county has “more criminal mischief” than hate crimes, he said—“in fact, almost double the national data on criminal mischief.” “For 2020, I think we’ve been seeing some interesting developments,” Levin continued. “One is the significant surge in anti-Asian hate crime. It looks like, and I haven’t confirmed it but we’re gonna go back and check the data over decades, but it looks like this will be either a record or darn close to it for anti-Asian hate crimes.” He noted the increase in anti-Asian sentiment was linked to the origin of COVID-19 being from China. “And this will probably impact Orange County, as you’ve seen before, because we have a larger representation of Asian-American people here in Orange County.” Allie Edwards, CEO of the Orange County Humans Relations Commission, confirmed the importance of Levin’s analysis. “I think that there are many people that would like to say that this is not happening or, you know, would find life easier if they can ignore this data,” Edwards said. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer emphasized his department’s willingness to stop hate crimes in the county and called the commission’s efforts “absolutely critical for our community.” “In fact, it’s probably more important than ever. On this call, I have a whole group of prosecutors who are responsible for prosecuting the hate crimes in our county, and they understand unequivocally that … I’ve been watching these trends, either as a county supervisor or as DA, and they’re completely unacceptable,” Spitzer told the audience. “What is going on in this country, to me, is completely unacceptable. We all have the right and the privilege to live together and to coexist together, and we must respect our differences, and our diversity.” Spitzer said that while it is the DA’s office that is responsible for prosecuting the cases and getting justice, he believes reported hate statistics are increasing not only because “there’s so much hate in our country,” but also because he and other prosecutors are “encouraging people to come forward.” “We have a responsibility and a duty to take care of our society and provide a vision of how we want it to look,” the DA said, adding that all the people on the call “are monitoring this.” “I know they care deeply about what we want our county to look like, and what we will accept and what we won’t tolerate,” Spitzer said. The 2019 report also concluded that 37 percent of hate crimes took place in public places, followed by 18 percent in places of worship, 17 percent in residences, 13 percent on school campuses, and 12 percent at a business or place of work. The most reported offense was vandalism, which accounted for 44 percent of hate crimes, followed by aggravated assault, which made up 22 percent. Orange County has a population of 3.2 million, according to the report, of which 30 percent are foreign-born. Forty percent of county residents speak a language other than English at home, including approximately 25 percent who speak Spanish. The report added that over 80 faiths are practiced in the county.

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Defense Attorney Ratchets Up Criticism of Orange County DA and Snitch Scandal

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS)—A defense attorney who won the recusal of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting the worst mass killer in county history ratcheted up his efforts on Oct. 21 to achieve the same objective in a drug possession case with new allegations of cheating by local law enforcement. Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, whose client Robert Glenn Barr is charged with possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell, alleged that District Attorney Todd Spitzer is covering up evidence in the so-called snitch scandal, which Spitzer used to unseat his predecessor Tony Rackauckas. Sanders, in representing Scott Dekraai, got him off the hook for the death penalty for committing a Seal Beach beauty salon massacre based on allegations that sheriff’s deputies violated the rights of jail inmates and that prosecutors failed to turn over evidence to defense attorneys. Dekraai, who pleaded guilty to the 2011 killings of his ex-wife and seven others at the Salon Meritage, has been sentenced to life in prison without parole. Sanders zeroed in on sheriff’s investigator Jonathan Larson, who is a “key witness” in the case against Barr, because Larson was a former member of the special handling unit at the center of the scandal involving allegations of the use of confidential informants to elicit illegal confessions from jail inmates. Larson, Sanders argued, made entries in a “Special Handling Log,” which was a diary of sorts created by deputies involved in the use of jailhouse informants. A recent report on the snitch scandal commissioned by Spitzer’s office concluded that retired prosecutors Scott Simmons and Dan Wagner, who were assigned to Dekraai’s case, were guilty of negligence and laid much of the blame at their feet. Sanders said the report included a mention that prosecutors “abandoned” a previously pledged effort to review all of the entries deputies made in the special handling unit log and turn them over to defense attorneys. Sanders alleges prosecutors were angered that the District Attorney’s Office was booted from the Dekraai case and then further upset by losing the recusal on appeal. “The concealment of Brady evidence from the [special handling unit] log and the cover-up that followed, involving numerous prosecutors and stretching across two OCDA administrations over more than four years, is perhaps the most egregious misconduct by a prosecutorial agency in United States history,” Sanders alleged in the amended recusal motion filed on Oct. 21. Kimberly Edds, Kimberly Edds, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, issued a statement regarding the accusations. “When the current District Attorney administration learned that the prior District Attorney abandoned its action plan to review the Sheriff’s Special Handling Log, District Attorney Spitzer immediately directed a top-to-bottom review of the SH Log by a team of veteran prosecutors,” the statement said. “That review, which involves a complete review of every inmate listed in the log to determine if Brady and discovery obligations have been met, has been ongoing for the last year, and is nearing completion. Defense attorneys have been notified when issues have been identified as a result of the review and those notifications are ongoing.” Sanders also argues Spitzer should be recused for attempting to bully him with implied threats to try to have the public defender fired. Sanders points to a City News Service story in which Spitzer’s spokesperson said Orange County supervisors should direct interim Public Defender Martin Schwarz to rein in Sanders. Sanders accused Spitzer of “brazenly false accusations, character assassination and intimidation.” “The efforts to deceive, denigrate and intimidate are unprecedented in California recusal jurisprudence,” he added. Sanders alleged Spitzer “brazenly lied” during a TV interview in July by claiming Sanders “apologized in court to prosecutors for having made false allegations.” Sanders noted that Spitzer has also claimed that Sanders is ramping up a run for district attorney, despite the fact that Sanders is currently ineligible for a run for the office because he does not live in the county. Sanders said Spitzer cheered on his efforts in the Dekraai case because they were politically damaging to Rackauckas. He also noted that Ebrahim Baytieh, the head of special prosecutions, which includes cases against law enforcement, has also done a role reversal under both administrations. Baytieh called allegations of prosecutorial misconduct during Rackauckas’ administration “baloney,” but now serves to block any release of the potentially damaging evidence in the special handling log to defense attorneys, including Sanders, he argued in his motion. Sanders maintains that prosecutors are concerned the evidence could affect numerous closed cases. Also potentially embarrassing are revelations that sheriff’s investigators involved in an audit of a separate scandal involving the dilatory booking of evidence misled sheriff’s deputies that investigators were also under an internal review when the probe only involved deputies. Said DA spokesperson Edds, “The Orange County District Attorney’s Office files 70,000 cases a year. We litigate legal motions in a court of law, not in the press as has been the pattern and practice of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office. “It is disappointing that Mr. Schwarz, as the interim, not permanent Public Defender, who reports to the Board of Supervisors, continues to allow one of his taxpayer-funded attorneys to hijack unrelated cases in order to further his own personal agenda. It is clear that Mr. Sanders cares more about advancing his own political and personal agenda than representing his client which is the work the taxpayers pay him to do.” By Paul Anderson

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Dispute Over Unofficial Ballot Boxes Continues in Southern California

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS)—California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Oct. 16 that state Republican Party officials have agreed to stop using unauthorized ballot collection boxes, but a state party spokesman had a different message. “The rhetoric is one thing … but our observations in the field … is another,” Padilla said in a phone call with reporters. “Despite the rhetoric, we continue to hear the state Republican Party has agreed to cease the deployment of unauthorized, unofficial, unsecure ballot drop boxes.” That was news to Republican Party officials in California, said party spokesman Hector Barajas. “We still get to use the boxes,” Barajas said of the unofficial drop boxes that the party purchased and set up in various places in Los Angeles, Orange and Fresno counties, which sparked calls for investigations, including one announced by Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer on Oct. 12. Spitzer said that Becerra’s office has now taken the lead on the investigations. “We started our investigation, but we’re in a kind of holding pattern until we get told or asked to continue to participate,” Spitzer said. State GOP officials acknowledged earlier this week that it was a mistake for activists to place signs indicating the boxes were official and agreed to remove those. A letter from GOP attorney Thomas Hiltachk on Oct. 14 addressed to Padilla stated that the Republican Party would not be removing the boxes, claiming that they were legal because of California’s ballot harvesting laws, but noting that the party did not intend to use the word “official” as part of the signage on the boxes. “The California Republican Party did not promote, or authorize the promotion of, the secure boxes as ‘official mail drop boxes,’” the letter stated. “When we learned that a sign using the word ‘official’ was used in some locations on Saturday, October, 10, 2020, we corrected that error immediately and within hours.” The letter further stated that the party had not and would not “place boxes unattended, outdoors, or in other places where the general public gather.” Otherwise, “we made no concessions,” Barajas said of the use of the ballot collection boxes. “They realized they didn’t have a leg to stand on,” Barajas said of Padilla and Becerra, after attorneys for the party sent the letter rejecting the state cease-and-desist order. “They could have shortened this press conference by saying, ‘I’m sorry,'” Barajas said. “That’s what it comes out to at the end of the day.” Counting the Votes Padilla said anyone agreeing to deliver a ballot for someone else to a local election office must sign the outside of the ballot’s envelope. But whether that is done or not, the vote will still be counted. Becerra acknowledged that a failure to sign the envelope won’t necessarily disqualify a vote, but he said that won’t let the conveyor of the vote off the hook legally. “We can’t hold someone’s hand in everything they do,” Becerra said. “We think the law is pretty straightforward and anyone who wishes to participate in the process in which you collect the vote, please make sure you’re doing it appropriately. … Please be safe and responsible.” Padilla said the signature of the conveyor of the vote is important. “The chain of custody in this is critical,” Padilla said. “That was not being kept with the unofficial drop boxes. … It was misleading and deceptive and undermined voters’ understanding of how they’re surrendering their ballots. … The Republican Party has acknowledged that in the use of those deceptive boxes.” Becerra added, “The investigation is ongoing. We continue to monitor activities of any entity seeking to collect voters’ ballots and we want to admonish anyone participating in these activities to understand what their responsibilities are.” One concern that has been raised is that a party activist could easily scan an envelope to determine if it is being cast by a Democrat or Republican and could dump ballots they don’t want counted. Voters are encouraged to drop their ballots in the mail, in an official drop box monitored by their local Registrar of Voters, at a Registrar of Voters’ offices, or at a vote center. “When that chain of custody is lost, there is no guarantee all the ballots will be returned to the county and on a timely basis,” Padilla said. “Because the law has a default position to respect and protect a vote, and a ballot will be counted even if a name of a designated person is missing, that’s the effort California makes to ensure your ballot is counted, but that is not a defense for the person conducting these collection activities that they’re not liable,” Becerra said. “Make sure what you’re doing is done properly. Simply because a ballot is counted doesn’t mean you’re absolved of any liability if the conduct was in violation of the law.” Orange County Accusations On Oct. 15, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel, a Republican who is running to unseat Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Newport Beach), accused her opponent of hypocrisy for operating a voter collection hub that is essentially the same as the unofficial ballot boxes. Alyssa Napuri, Rouda’s campaign manger, struck back, saying they have followed and continue “to follow the letter of the law. Unlike Michelle Steel, and the California GOP, who continue to break California election law by operating unattended, unsecured, and illegal drop-off boxes. This continued flaunting of our local election laws is disqualifying, even for Orange County’s most corrupt politician.” Becerra said his office was aware of the accusations regarding Rouda’s campaign. “We will investigate any credible evidence that activities are in violation of election law,” Becerra said. “We know the Republican Party provided information on the Rouda campaign and we will follow up where we can to make sure the activities with ballot collection are done properly.” Barajas said, “We don’t want people to believe something nefarious is happening,” so if the party has to have a specific designated person sign the envelopes, then that’s what organizers will do. “We’re just asking for parity in the law,” Barajas said. “Treat us as you do Democrats.” Barajas said Republicans  were “late to the ballot harvesting” and are doing what they can to level the playing field. “This was a way to equalize things, to allow us to get into a ballot collection program,” he said. The party spokesman then wondered why other collection issues hadn’t been raised during the past few years by state officials. “If I go door-to-door and go to your home and pick up your neighbor’s ballot, was it in a backpack with a lock on it? Are they OK in the trunk of my car or in my room? None of that has come up, and that is what we’ve been asking,” said Barajas. “I would rather the ballots be secured in a metal lock box like we provide than some Santa bag or a backpack that the Democrats have been using for the last several years.” Drew Van Voorhis of The Epoch Times contributed to this report.

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