Newport Beach police feared ‘cover-up’ by DA Todd Spitzer, letter to judge shows

A Newport Beach police supervisor raised concerns several weeks ago that the Orange County District Attorney’s Office was trying to “cover-up” racially charged comments made by DA Todd Spitzer, according to a newly-released memo he sent to a judge.

Court Depweg, an acting lieutenant in the police department’s detective division, informed a judge in a Feb. 3 memo that he had warned the head of the DA’s homicide division that “the actions by his office would affect our working relationship moving forward and it was disappointing that he and so many of his colleagues would try and cover this matter up, as we all know ‘the cover-up is always worse than the crime.’ “

In the memo, the lieutenant described the DA’s office as going behind the back of the victims and police by informing the court and the defense that they would not seek the death penalty against Jamon Buggs, a Black man who is accused of killing a White couple in Newport Beach. The memo also cites what the lieutenant described at the time as “information from multiple sources” that DA Todd Spitzer had made “an unsolicited, derogatory and racist comment about Black men/persons.”

Police and prosecutors work as partners on the prosecution team during a criminal case, and it is highly unusual for a police official to reach out directly to a judge to criticize the DA office’s actions or to weigh in outside of the DA’s office on what information should be shared with the court or the defense. Newport Beach police on Thursday declined to comment further on the memo.

Spitzer said at the time the police memo was written, his office was “very limited in what we could say because we had already gone to the judge and the issue was being litigated in court.” Spitzer previously said he was misquoted and taken out of context regarding the racial comments.

“It is completely understandable that there would be some confusion by other parties because the ongoing litigation prevented us from discussing details of the proceedings,” Spitzer said.

“When my head of homicide expressed to me that Newport Beach police had questions about the status of the case and asked if I would take a phone call, I told him they could call me anytime,” Spitzer added. “No one ever called me.”

DA spokeswoman Kimberly Edds said they had already reached out to the judge the day before the police memo was sent and met with the judge the day after that.

The formerly sealed memo was sent to Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett, who released it on Thursday, a day after internal memos outlining the racially charged comments made by Spitzer were leaked to the media. The Register had previously requested that the filings in the case be unsealed, citing the potential significant public interest.

In a memo about an Oct. 1 meeting regarding whether to seek the death penalty in the Buggs case, former Senior Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh wrote that Spitzer inquired about the race of Buggs’ previous girlfriends.

According to Baytieh’s memo, others in the room told Spitzer the question was irrelevant and inappropriate to consider during a discussion of the death penalty, but Spitzer disagreed and “said he knows many black people who get themselves out of their bad circumstances and bad situations by only dating ‘white women.” Baytieh later penned a correction amending the line to say Spitzer “knows many black people who enhance their status by only dating ‘white women.’”

Baytieh in the initial memo also alleged that Spitzer said he knew a Black student in college who dated only White women to get himself out of his “bad circumstances and situations,” a quote later amended to say Spitzer said he knew a Black student who dated only White women to “enhance his status.”