Monday, February 2, 2009

Grand jury praises SLO D.A.’s actions in 2002 fatal Grover Beach case involving Freitas

Gerald Shea and his office changed procedures in response to delay in prosecution of 2002 case
Bob Cuddy -

The county civil grand jury has applauded District Attorney Gerald Shea’s office for instituting changes after Kenneth Freitas struck and killed Sarah Scruggs in Grover Beach in 2002.

As part of its activities, the citizen panel reviews how well recommendations of previous years’ grand juries have been handled. In this case, it was looking into suggestions the 2003-04 grand jury made in the wake of the tragic traffic death.

Freitas was convicted of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter for fatally striking 17-year-old Scruggs at the intersection of West Grand Avenue and Fifth Street.

But the trial and conviction took close to a year to get under way. Some charged that was because employees of the county District Attorney’s Office were professionally close to Frank Freitas, the county treasurer-tax collector and Kenneth Freitas’ father.

The grand jury conducted its inquiry after more than 700 people, including Scruggs’ family, demanded an investigation of the District Attorney’s Office handling of the case.

It was not until the investigation began that the District Attorney’s Office filed charges against Freitas.

At the time, Freitas had 24 prior traffic citations — 13 for speeding — and two reckless driving convictions.

Following the incident, Shea’s office instituted a system of requiring monthly status reviews of all pending cases.

It shares this information — called the Pending Cases Report — with the county’s victim witness division.

Shea’s office also has developed new ways to keep track of vehicular manslaughter cases and other cases involving a fatality, grand jurors wrote in their report.

They also praised Shea’s office for issuing a memo that would help deputy district attorneys identify potential conflicts of interest early in a case.

“The communication between the district attorney, the victim witness division, and victims’ families has been improved,” the grand jury wrote.

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