2014 Series Introduction

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© 2014  By Peter Lance INTRODUCTION

On New Year’s Day 2011 I was arrested for a DUI crime I didn’t commit. It took nearly a year to clear my name in court and another four months to get my license restored by the DMV. But I’m an investigative reporter by trade and my own case presented a unique opportunity to expose wide-ranging corruption in The Santa Barbara Police Department.

This is the other side of the DUI story; a multi-layered scandal involving a respected Member of Congress and her loyal District Representative, a decorated Iraq War vet who struggled for years as an alcoholic until one fateful night last December he got into his car with a reported blood alcohol content of .17 and ended up committing manslaughter.

It was just before Christmas when I heard that Mallory Rae Dies, a 27-year-old graduate of UCSB, had been struck and killed in a DUI hit-and-run. The news of her death moved me deeply. As I noted in a sidebar to my 2011 series in The Santa Barbara News-Press, “driving impaired is a repugnant crime. I’ve lost several friends to drunk drivers and I’ve done many stories relating to auto safety, including pieces celebrating the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.”

So I began to investigate. What I discovered about the tragic incident and the reaction of prominent local officials in the aftermath may seem shocking. But the truth is the truth.

This series will be critical of the accused, Raymond Victor Morua III as well as his former employer, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) for whom I’ve voted multiple times. It will also cite retired Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge George Eskin, who intervened to help Mr. Morua following his arrest. Judge Eskin was the initial judge on my DUI case before he recused himself and at that time I told him that I’d not only voted for his wife, State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) but I campaigned for her in 2008.

During my DUI prosecution in 2011 my lawyer was Darryl Genis, who now represents Mr. Morua.

Over the years my work has been covered positively and critically by The Santa Barbara Independent, which features prominently in this series, particularly its former crime reporter, Chris Meagher, who is now press secretary for Mrs. Capps. Mr. Meagher covered my DUI trial, which was dismissed on constitutional grounds in November 2011. Since then I’ve had several personal meetings with him and exchanged multiple emails.

So there are many connections and few degrees of separation — not surprising in a city as small as Santa Barbara. But this isn’t about friends, colleagues or former associates. It’s about uncovering the facts behind a terrible collision and the ensuing cover-up.

Finley Peter Dunne, a humorist and writer who cut a wide path during the golden age of “muckraker journalism” once wrote that “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Over the years I had a plaque with that dictum hanging over my desk in various newsrooms starting with The Newport Daily News in Rhode Island.; my hometown paper where I learned the trade as a cub reporter.

Years later, somewhat tarnished by age, the plaque was gaffer’s-taped to the wall in my office at ABC News where I’d graduated to telling stories on video. But whatever the medium, that phrase, as I see it, is a concise description of the media’s duty.

Following my series in 2011 The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury mandated the installation of video dash cams in all 28 patrol units of The Santa Barbara Police Department. A comparison of arrests by the SBPD’s dedicated Drinking Driver Team (DDT) before and after the dash cams were installed is revealing:

In 2010 the last year before video, Kasi Beutel, the DDT officer, was credited by the Department with 349 DUI arrests. In 2012 her successor, Aaron Tudor, made 183 DUI arrests. That’s a 48% drop once field sobriety tests were conducted on camera.

In the space of two years did half the motorists in Santa Barbara pulled over by DDT officers become more careful about driving while intoxicated or, prior to when she was subject to video scrutiny, did Officer Beutel frame innocent drivers for DUI crimes they didn’t commit? I’ll leave that for the reader to decide. But one thing is clear: the crimes reported in this series underscore the importance of honest and vigorous DUI enforcement. They also remind us that no one is above the law — even a Member of Congress.

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