|News Media Update||CALIFORNIA||Newsgathering|
Grand jury cites district attorney for misconduct
- A California civil grand jury cited a district attorney for intimidating coworkers and publicly making threatening comments about two reporters at The Modesto Bee.
July 8, 2004 — A civil grand jury in Modesto, Calif., cited a local district attorney last week for making threatening comments about a pair of newspaper reporters who were investigating his office.
The Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury, an investigative panel that lacks the authority to indict, also found that District Attorney James Brazelton intimidated employees in his office so they would not testify against him. In all, Brazelton was cited on nine counts of willful misconduct, including violations of the county’s Workplace Security and Anti-violence Policy and its Harassment Policy.
Brazelton, 62, was elected district attorney of Modesto in 1996 and reelected in 1998 and 2002.
The grand jury recommended that the County Board of Supervisors “publicly rebuke” Brazelton, who is required by law to respond to the allegations within 60 days. The board does not have the legal authority to punish an elected official.
The grand jury chose not file an official accusation in court, which could have led to criminal charges of “willful or corrupt conduct” by a public officer.
At the time of the alleged threats, in August 2003, reporters Michael G. Mooney and Garth Stapley of The Modesto Bee were investigating credit card receipts from the prosecutor’s office.
According to the grand jury report, released July 3, Brazelton drew his gun from its holster, held it in his open palm and told a co-worker, “This is what I would like to give that reporter.” On another occasion, Brazelton uttered a similar comment in front of co-workers while making quick gestures with his right hand — as though drawing a firearm, the report said.
Brazelton denied that either incident occurred, according to the report. He could not be reached for comment.
Investigators employed by the district attorney are sworn law enforcement officers who can carry firearms without a concealed weapons permit.
The report also contends that Brazelton, after being interviewed by the county counsel’s office over the allegations — the office sent the issue to the grand jury — told staff members that he was “trying to find a rat in my office.”
The grand jury additionally found that the prosecutor’s office needs a stronger policy on proper use and possession of firearms by its employees, and urged the creation of policies to protect the rights of whistle-blowers.
© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press