Scrutiny of 2nd District LB councilmember heats up

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Second District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce

After serving just a little more than a year in office, Long Beach Councilmember Jeannine Pearce now will have to face critics who have launched a campaign to remove her from office.

According to a press release sent to the Signal Tribune, organizers created “The Committee to Recall Councilmember Jeannine Pearce” following months of investigation into the 2nd District councilmember’s public dispute with her former chief of staff, Devin Cotter. Political-consulting firm Adouki and Associates announced the recall campaign, citing critical remarks from Long Beach residents.

As the Signal Tribune had reported a few months ago, in the early-morning hours of June 3, officers from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and eventually the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) discovered both Pearce and Cotter together in a car parked on a median of the 710 Freeway, close to the Golden Shore exit. When CHP officers approached the car, they found Pearce and Cotter in the middle of what Pearce’s attorney described as a “heated” argument.

LBPD officers performed a field-sobriety test on Pearce, who had been driving the car.

She passed the test. The police separated the two. Officers even drove Cotter home, while Pearce was allowed to ask a friend to take her to her own home, according to a statement from the department. However, later that morning, Pearce had to call the police officers to intervene again. This time, Cotter confronted Pearce outside of her home. Officers discovered an outstanding warrant for Cotter related to a previous charge for driving under the influence (DUI), and they also arrested him on a charge of public intoxication. Cotter’s attorney said that his client spent only a few hours in jail that day and subsequently enrolled in the necessary alcohol classes related to his 2014 DUI case. He also claims that Cotter sustained injuries that day.

Details were left out of the narrative that had been given by the Long Beach Police Department. On social media, critics scrutinized the department’s handling of the June 3 incident. They asked if police officers gave the councilmember special treatment and helped her pass her field-sobriety test by delaying the administration of the test. The department reported in July that investigators spent more than 300 hours looking into the actions of its employees. The LBPD defended its police staff.

“After thoroughly reviewing the facts and evidence presented during the final briefing,” the LBPD said in a statement, “it was determined that the allegations of misconduct were unfounded, which means that the alleged misconduct did not occur.”

Over the last few months, Pearce and her staff have not responded to media inquiries regarding the June 3 incident and this week did not respond to the Signal Tribune‘s request for an interview surrounding the new campaign to recall her from office.

Through her former attorney, Michele Dobson, the 2nd District representative had issued a statement in June that claimed the incident was a personal family issue. She only offered a partial explanation for her silence.

“While I am personally focused on healing and supporting my daughter in understanding the alteration in our lifestyle as a result of the need to take measures to protect my personal safety, which is standard practice for victims of domestic violence,” Pearce wrote in her statement, “I continue to devote myself professionally to representing and championing the 2nd District. Unfortunately, since late last year I have experienced escalating threats, harassment and stalking.”

Pearce never specifically mentioned Devin Cotter in her statement, nor did she offer any details on the events that took place in the early-morning hours of June 3.

Ian Patton, a political consultant for Adouki and Associates, dismissed the councilmember’s claims that this issue was a “private family matter.” His firm announced the recall campaign on Aug. 25. He rejected any argument that Pearce may be the victim in the dispute.

“I mean, the political burden on herself as an elected official is to explain herself to her constituents,” Patton said in a phone interview. “The legal burden is on a prosecutor to prove the case, but, you know, really, her constituents do have the right to say, ‘Look, deal with your criminal problems on your own time, but allow the 2nd District to move forward in terms of its representation.'”

Back in July, Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert sent a statement to the Signal Tribune to announce that the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office would be handling any misdemeanor review of the case involving Pearce.

“This includes responsibility for any prosecutorial action involving City Councilmember Pearce, including misdemeanor charge evaluation, and, if charges are filed, for prosecution of the case,” Haubert said in his statement. “This should not be interpreted as meaning any charges will be filed, only that consideration of the case will now be exclusively under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.”
Haubert explained that the decision was made to avoid even the “possibility” of an “’appearance of a conflict,’ since the city council votes on the city prosecutor’s budget.”

While Pearce is only one of the nine councilmembers who oversee his budget, he acknowledged there isn’t a “clear test” for when a city prosecutor would have an “appearance of a conflict.”

“However,” he concluded, “I believe the public interest is best served by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office handling the matter to prevent even the possibility that any decision related to Ms. Pearce will be made on any basis other than the facts of the case.”

There are other details that have emerged since Pearce’s confrontation with her former employee became public. The Signal Tribune reported earlier this year that Cotter left his post as Pearce’s chief of staff back in February. Public records show that he had filed “articles of incorporation” paperwork for his company, Bullhorn Consulting, with the State of California last December. Patton pointed to impropriety with Cotter’s company, since Pearce’s current chief of staff, Christian Kropff, is named as Bullhorn’s chief executive officer, according to a “statement of information” record he found on the State’s government website.

Pearce can’t escape the wrath of her critics. Patton pointed to a statement made by Long Beach resident Jonathan Crouch, who appeared before a Long Beach council meeting on Aug. 15. His appearance has been posted on YouTube. During a public-comment period, he blasted the councilmember.

“The irresponsible actions of Jeannine Pearce and her office have tarnished the once-great reputation of the 2nd District,” Crouch said, “and I strongly urge her to resign from her council seat.”