DA’s Racial Remarks in Death Penalty Case Are Being Probed by OC’s Law Enforcement Watchdog

OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s racial remarks during a death penalty decision meeting has now become the focus of an investigation by the county’s law enforcement watchdog.

The probe by Orange County’s Office of Independent Review (OIR) centers on statements about Black men dating White women that Spitzer has acknowledged making when deciding whether to seek the death penalty against a Black defendant, Jamon Rayon Buggs, as well as complaints about the DA’s office’s handling of its victim’s rights obligations under Marsy’s Law.

“We are investigating these allegations,” said Sergio Perez, who as OIR director is tasked under county law with investigating law enforcement misconduct, in an interview with Voice of OC this week.

“The allegations are quite serious because they get to the heart…of the criminal justice system’s commitment to treat everybody fairly, regardless of who they are,” he added.

“And whenever there’s a question about that kind of treatment, then we run the danger of a crisis in confidence in the criminal justice system. We want to be sure decisions are being made for the right reasons in the right ways,” added Perez.

“The goal is to ensure people have an objective and transparent accounting of what took place.”

Spitzer – who led the charge years ago to expand the watchdog office’s jurisdiction to the DA’s office when he was a county supervisor – is promising to cooperate.

“I am the one who originally insisted on expanding the Office of Independent’s oversight to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Of course we will fully cooperate with any investigation,” Spitzer said in a statement to Voice of OC.

“There is absolutely zero truth to the allegations,” he added.

Spitzer has acknowledged that at an Oct. 1 meeting on whether to seek the death penalty against Buggs, he asked prosecutors about the race of the defendant’s former girlfriends and said he had “seen Black men date White women in certain circles in order to have others around them be more accepting.”

Spitzer contends that was entirely appropriate for him to bring up Black men dating White women when discussing whether to seek the death penalty, because he “simply was exploring [the defendant’s] ability to identify, properly or not, the race of the female victim in that moment before he executed two victims.”

Yet several prosecutors in the room appear to have seen it differently.

According to a memo written by then-prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh – who’s now running for judge – he and two other prosecutors from the meeting agreed that Spitzer’s remarks had to be turned over to the judge in Buggs’ case.

Baytieh wrote the prosecutors agreed that the comments had to be disclosed to the judge under the state’s Racial Justice Act, which requires disclosure of potential racial bias.

Baytieh also had a different account from Spitzer about what the DA said. In Baytieh’s account, Spitzer said “he knows many black people who get themselves out of their bad circumstances and bad situations by only dating ‘white women.’ ”