Ex-Prosecutor Alleges Spitzer Raised Race as Issue in Death Penalty Case

SANTA ANA (CNS) – Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer allegedly told a group of prosecutors discussing the case of a Black murder defendant that some Black men intentionally date white women to escape “bad circumstances or bad situations,” according to a memo written by a recently fired prosecutor and obtained by City News Service today.

According to the Dec. 3 memo penned by then-Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh, Spitzer was in a meeting with other prosecutors to discuss whether to seek the death penalty against a Black man accused of a 2019 double-murder in Newport Beach. While discussing alleged prior acts of domestic violence by the defendant, Spitzer “specifically and expressly asked about the race of the defendant’s prior female girlfriends/victims,” according to the document.

Baytieh said in the memo that he did not know the ethnic background of the victims, and the prosecutor assigned to the case said “he does not consider or take race into account,” prompting Baytieh to add, “that the race of the victims is completely irrelevant and it will be inappropriate for the OCDA to consider or give any weight to the race of the victims.”

But Spitzer “stated that he disagreed and he knows many Black people who get themselves out of their bad circumstances and bad situations by only dating `white women,”’ according to the document.

“I then specifically stated that we should not under any circumstances give any weight or even discuss the race of the victims when we are deciding about the appropriate punishment to seek because, among other legal and ethical reasons, doing so implicates the recently signed Racial Justice Act (AB 2542),” Baytieh wrote in the memo.

Spitzer responded “that while he was a student in college, he knew as a¬†matter of fact that one of his fellow Black students who lived in the same location as DA Spitzer only dated `white women,’ and that DA Spitzer knew for sure that this Black student did so on purpose to get himself out of his bad circumstances and situations,” according to Baytieh’s memo.

Spitzer’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the memo, the comments were allegedly made during an Oct. 1, 2021, meeting of prosecutors to consider whether to seek the death penalty for Jamon Rayon Buggs, who is charged with killing 48-year-old Wendi Sue Miller of Costa Mesa and 38-year-old Darren Donald Parch of Newport Beach in April 2019.

Buggs, who is Black, had dated Miller, who was white.

On Dec. 22, 2021, Baytieh wrote another memo outlining how two other senior prosecutors in the office had concluded that the Dec. 3 memo describing Spitzer’s comments should be turned over to Buggs’ defense team. They based the analysis on the Racial Justice Act as well as the Brady law that governs the obligations of prosecutors in turning over evidence to defense attorneys.

“My legal conclusion that we are obligated to discover the information in the attached memo to the defense attorneys is based on the totality of all the information, guided by the very broad language of the Racial Justice Act and the teachings of the United States Supreme Court: `the prudent prosecutor will resolve doubtful questions in favor of disclosure,”’ Baytieh wrote.

On Jan. 26, 2022, Spitzer issued a memo to all of the prosecutors involved in the October meeting that the Buggs case was being reassigned to a new prosecutor, who would be supervised by Assistant District Attorney Susan Price, who is now running for Long Beach mayor. Everyone else involved in the October Buggs meeting — including Spitzer himself — was to be “walled off from any involvement in the case” going forward, Spitzer wrote in the memo.

Spitzer also announced in the memo that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty against Buggs, but would seek life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Baytieh was fired on Feb. 9, with Spitzer saying the move was in response to his handling of a separate murder defendant, Paul Gentile Smith, who was convicted in 2010 but was granted a new trial over claims of prosecution misconduct.

“My prosecutors will not violate the Constitution and the rights of defendants in order to get convictions,” Spitzer said a statement regarding Baytieh’s firing. “On August 5, 2021, I was forced to make the difficult decision to concede a new trial to Paul Gentile Smith, who was convicted of a murder in 2010 in which he is accused of brutally mutilating his victim and setting him on fire.

“He had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This decision was as a result of allegations that a prosecutor failed under the prior administration to turn over information about an informant to the defense. I immediately hired an independent law firm to investigate whether there was a failure by the prosecutor to properly turn over discovery and whether the prosecutor was truthful in all subsequent and related inquiries by the United States Department of Justice.

“Yesterday, that independent investigation was completed. As a result of those findings, the prosecutor is no longer employed by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.”

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