Bad mood Reisig

Yolo district attorney accused of retaliating against whistleblowers

Another Yolo investigator says District Attorney Jeff Reisig (left) hid evidence in a murder trial and then punished those who called him on it.

Another Yolo investigator says District Attorney Jeff Reisig (left) hid evidence in a murder trial and then punished those who called him on it.

Photo By larry dalton

See Cosmo Garvin’s earlier story, “Breaking ranks” (SN&R Frontlines; March 20, 2008.)

The Halloween homicides of 2002 continue to haunt Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig. A second district attorney investigator has come forward alleging that Reisig tried to hide evidence in the high-profile gang murder case, and later retaliated against the investigators who made him reveal that evidence to the court.

Investigator Randy Skaggs filed a lawsuit in federal court last week alleging that Reisig and other department honchos have violated his privacy, smeared his reputation and unfairly tried to fire him, all for blowing the whistle on Reisig’s misconduct. But Reisig’s office is denying any wrongdoing.

According to the lawsuit, Skaggs “brought to the attention of the District Attorney at the time of the incident, the fact that Jeff Reisig failed to turn over exculpatory evidence … to defense counsel.” At the time, Reisig was a deputy district attorney, under elected District Attorney Dave Henderson.

In 2006, Reisig was prosecuting three alleged gang members in the shooting deaths of two other men on Halloween 2002. The killings were described by the prosecution as an “execution” of rival gang members.

The evidence in question was a report written by Skaggs which cast doubt on the testimony of one of Reisig’s witnesses. The witness claimed to see the flash from a .22-caliber gun, but Skaggs’ report suggested that was not possible under the conditions at the time of the crime. The report could have been helpful to the defense. The complaint goes on to say that “After Jeff Reisig was forced to turn the evidence over, the department began to treat [Skaggs] selectively.”

As it turned out, the evidence didn’t cost Reisig the case. He got three men convicted of first-degree murder and bolstered his gang-fighting credentials. He was elected Yolo County district attorney later that same year.

Skaggs is the second district attorney investigator to publicly accuse Reisig of trying to hide evidence in the case, and to allege retaliation over the incident.

“It made Reisig look bad. And he decided when he got elected [district attorney] that he was going to get these guys,” said Sean Howell, an attorney representing Skaggs with the firm Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller and Johnsen. The same firm is also representing Rick Gore, the first investigator to accuse Reisig.

Gore wrote a letter to Reisig last year—which was leaked and circulated widely on local blogs and in the local press—blasting the district attorney for unethical behavior. Gore alleged that Reisig directed Gore and others to write letters to the media disparaging his political opponent, Deputy District Attorney Pat Lenzi, during their 2006 election contest.

Gore also criticized Reisig’s handling of the controversial West Sacramento gang injunction and faulted him for legal shortcuts that eventually got the measure thrown out by the courts. Reisig was later successful in imposing another gang injunction, but Gore, originally a supporter of the gang-suppression tool, was disillusioned. “I think this injunction is being used for your political benefit. … It is no longer a tool for law enforcement and public safety.”

And Gore’s letter also shed light on what happened behind the scenes during the Halloween homicide case. Skaggs and Gore went to then-District Attorney Henderson, and Reisig was ordered, according to Gore’s account, to turn the muzzle flash report over to the defense lawyers. “You made it clear to me that you were upset with me because you had to eventually discover this evidence because of me pushing the issue.”

Once Reisig took over as district attorney, Gore said he “systematically pushed, pressured, and used scare tactics, threats and intimidation against [Reisig’s] staff to ensure that no one questions [Reisig].” Gore went on to say that Reisig denied him pay raises and tried to badger him into leaving.

Reisig refuted all of Gore’s accusations, calling them “false and reckless.”

Later, an investigation by Yolo County legal counsel found no wrongdoing on Reisig’s part. And eventually Gore was fired. But the investigator may yet get his job back through an independent arbitration process, still pending.

Skaggs’ complaint alleges that his bosses trumped up reasons to discipline him, unfairly fired him and illegally shared details of his personnel file with other district attorney investigators around the state, undermining his reputation and his ability to get a job in the future.

At the same time he is launching his lawsuit, Skaggs is also trying to get his job back with back pay, through an independent arbitration process.

He is accusing the department of “illegally and intentionally bringing frivolous administrative actions” against him for his role in the Halloween homicides flap. From various accounts, it also appears that Skaggs’ support of Gore got him in trouble with the district attorney.

Howell would not elaborate on what misconduct his client has been accused of, other than to say, “It’s something that would not traditionally get anywhere near termination.” He added he was confident that the independent arbitrator would give Skaggs his job back. But he said the actions of Skaggs’ superiors could make it tough for him to find work in another county district attorney’s office.

Reisig did not respond to SN&R’s requests for comment. His office gave a statement to the Woodland Daily Democrat that “The District Attorney’s Office has not been served with legal notice of any federal lawsuit filed by Mr. Randy Skaggs,” and also that “the District Attorney’s Office would categorically deny any wrongdoing in matters involving Mr. Skaggs.”