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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Obstructing Justice and Speeding Tickets

Police accused of conspiracy in woman's speeding ticket dismissal 
The Los Angeles Times by Matt Stevens  -  June 5, 2012
 A Garden Grove officer allegedly tried to impress the woman by promising he could have her citation dismissed, and prosecutors say a Huntington Beach officer helped him do so. 

Michael John Zannitto, an 11-year veteran of the Garden Grove Police Department, was enjoying a day at Knott's Berry Farm when he met a woman who had recently been cited for speeding around a stopped school bus in Huntington Beach. The off-duty officer wasn't in uniform, but prosecutors say Zannitto tried to impress the woman by promising that he could have her $234 citation dismissed. About a month after the ticket was issued in November, Zannitto got a text message from the 32-year-old woman that included a picture of a bottle of alcohol and said she could provide free alcohol if the ticket went away, according to a statement Monday from the Orange County district attorney's office. But Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Chris Duff said that the woman, who works in the alcohol industry, may have had more than one reason to offer the liquor. "Based on the tenor of the texts, I get the idea that he wanted to date her, and she was perhaps providing alcohol so she wouldn't have to date him," Duff said. Zannitto and his alleged co-conspirator, Erik Michael Krause, a 22-year veteran of the Huntington Beach Police Department, were charged Monday with one misdemeanor count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Each faces up to one year in jail if convicted of illegally helping the woman. Attempts to reach Zannitto, 46, and Krause, 43, were unsuccessful. Calls to a phone number listed with Zannitto's residence received a message that said the line had been disconnected. Garden Grove police Lt. Jeff Nightengale said Zannitto is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the case. He referred questions to the district attorney's office and said his department would have no further comment. Huntington Beach police Lt. Mitch O'Brien said Krause is also on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation that is expected to be completed in about a week. He said his department has audited all traffic tickets within the last 18 months and found nothing noteworthy. "We're not a gigantic department so everybody knows everybody here," O'Brien said. "Unfortunately, Officer Krause will probably be painted as some evil guy. We can't stand by and watch this happen, but Erik is a good man. He's the kind of guy you'd love to live next to. "This is definitely an anomaly." Officials say that in January, Zannitto called the Huntington Beach Police Department, told an officer that the ticketed woman was his sister and asked to speak with Krause. Days later, Krause told Zannitto he would "take care of" the ticket, according to the district attorney's statement, and when Zannitto informed the woman, she texted that she would hand over "a bunch of alcohol." "Sounds good to me," Zannitto is alleged to have replied by text message. Despite initially having written several sentences of notes to document the woman's citation, Krause is accused of submitting a false declaration to his department, requesting that the citation be dismissed and writing: "Please dismiss in the interest of justice. No notes." "Traffic tickets are dismissed, but usually not with a false declaration made under penalty of perjury," Duff said. A Huntington Beach lieutenant happened to be double checking traffic tickets and came upon the discrepancy between Krause's initial report and his subsequent declaration, Duff said. Duff added that an investigation was launched but the alcohol never changed hands. Zannitto had previously instructed the woman to file a written declaration to contest her ticket and because Krause's declaration was never filed with the court, the woman's ticket was dismissed. Krause and Zannitto are scheduled to be arraigned June 26 in Santa Ana. 


OC police seen obstructing justice with speeding ticket case 
The Los Angeles Examiner by Philip Shan  -  June 5, 2012

Veterans of the Orange County police force, Michael Zannitto and Eric Krause, were recently charged with misdemeanors in conspiracy to obstruct justice. Not a heavy conviction, but it still overlays a very corrupt issue that is ongoing in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. Parking and speeding are two of the most highly ticketed traffic violations, yet their laws can be construed as more of a shakedown than anything, namely with parking. Ticket revenues generated in West Hollywood alone generate more than $7.7 million a year, a number expected to reach more than $9 million a year, according to KCET. Instead of have local sheriffs enforce parking, West Hollywood (WeHo) parking enforcement is contracted out to a private corporation, making it a 1.9 mile radius conclave that is impossible to park in without getting a ticket for those who work and live in the area. Really WeHo is the most extreme version of that entire side of Los Angeles; it’s essentially a parking zoo. In the case of police corruption, there have been numerous cases of government and city officials getting out of paying parking fines and violations on a sort of get-out-of-fine pass that precluded those working for the government to have to pay any fines for parking or traffic violations. It turns out they were selling and swapping these “gold passes” to family and friends for favors. The integrity of the city has never been great, but this is outright third-world and the recent case in OC with Zannetti and Krause is no different. Zannitto is facing allegations that he used his position to make an improper advance on a 32-year-old woman by saying he could erase her $234 citation. Their text messages were recorded, in their exchange the woman then said she would give him free alcohol since she worked in the industry where she worked as some sort of alcohol distributor. In their interpretation of the texts, the prosecutors conjure up a woman who was pulling away from the police officer’s advances and offering alcohol as a substitute for a date. In reply to her barter, the L.A. Times reports Zannitto confirmed “Sounds good to me,” by text. If convicted, both Zannitto and Krause, who were both involved in the conspiracy to obstruct justice, could face up to one year in jail on one count of misdemeanor charges. Hopefully the police and city officials don’t have to learn the hard way and start to get their act together went it comes to traffic citations and upholding their integrity.

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