Out of pocket

Out of pocket

In December of 2010, retired veteran and former Orange County Veterans Service Officer Ken Cavaretta said he would not rest until he saw justice served in the shooting death of fellow veteran Marine LCpl James Whitehead, and it is a cause he has continued to champion into the new year. Cavaretta worked with Whitehead in the months prior to the former serviceman’s death while serving in the county’s Veterans Service office and, according to him, the fun-loving guy he had come to know and care about didn’t deserve the fate that awaited him. For that reason, Cavaretta has made it his mission to see justice served for the slain man and his family.

According to an eyewitness at the scene of the shooting death, Randy Edwards, Whitehead was shot in cold blood at the hand of off-duty Orange officer Capt. Robert Arnold.

“I could see (off-duty Orange police captain Robert) Arnold was out of control,” Edwards recounted of the events July 26, 2010, when Whitehead was killed.  “He came at James (Whitehead) with the intent to kill him and that is exactly what he did. It was all just so crazy to get to that point. There was a yelling; then there was a shooting. Then (Whitehead) was dead.”

Whitehead, a decorated Marine called a “hero” by the men whose lives he saved on the battlefield, was shot once at point-blank range and succumbed to his injuries almost instantaneously. His last words, said Edwards, were directed at the man who pulled the trigger to end the young soldier’s life.

“James stood up and said, ‘You shot me,’ while looking Arnold in the face,” Edwards remembered in detail. “Arnold just looked at him and said, ‘I damn sure did.’ Then, James just fell back in the truck and died.”

A detailed report penned by then-police-chief Sam Kittrell, 38 pages to be exact, listed numerous instances where Arnold showed lacking judgment in the handling of the incident that occurred in July 2010. Kittrell stopped short of calling the shooting a murder, but did opt to indefinitely suspend Arnold as a result of the police chief’s internal investigation into the facts of what transpired in the moments leading up to the Marine’s death.

The perception of wrong-doing didn't translate to Arnold's conviction, however, as Orange County District Attorney John Kimbrough failed to get a grand jury indictment in the case against the gunman. Cavaretta, now the frontman of a group calling itself Justice for James, led a caravan of more than 100 protestors to the steps of the Orange County Courthouse to call for the district attorney’s resignation – a call that went unanswered.

Now, with no indictment to prove Arnold’s wrongdoing, the officer released from the Orange Police Department by the chief of police due to multiple instances of improper policing that led to a man’s death and “use of force” records that outnumbered any other officer on the force (including at least three instances of substantially injuring juveniles and a fellow officer) is free to seek reinstatement in the police department he was discharged from in November 2010.

Information obtained by The Examiner shows that Arnold will have his day in front of Orange city leaders when an arbitrator hears from the suspended officer April 18 and 19 in the Municipal Courtroom. According to city attorney John Cash Smith, the arbitration could last for a potential third day. The arbitrator, a retired U.S. Air Force Reserve Major General from Oaks Ranch in Texas, will hear from Arnold and his legal representation as to why the officer should be reappointed to his former post. Should the binding arbitration favor Arnold the officer could also be entitled to back pay for the last approximately six months of his indefinite suspension.

A call to the city of Orange secretary for exact numbers as to the cost to the municipality was unanswered as of press time, but the thousands of dollars extracted from the county coffers as it pertains to arbitrating the return of Arnold may pale in comparison to the funds that could be necessitated to litigate the slew of pending cases levied against the city from citizens who claim police brutality at the hand of the former Orange police Captain. A source with interest in one of the cases pending against the city claimed that, at a recent meeting of at least five complainants and city of Orange representatives, a sum of $250,000 was offered to plaintiffs as a settlement. The offer was refused, according to the source. City of Orange reps didn’t’ comment.

In the interim, however, no funding is flowing to the family of the deceased veteran. Cavaretta said Whitehead’s death benefits from the Veterans Services Administration (VA) are not being paid to his family, and won’t be until at least several months after the Arnold arbitration has been finalized should the former officer’s claim be denied. If reinstated, the family may never recover the benefits Whitehead earned during his multiple tours of duty. Cavaretta said that the death certificate’s declaration ruling of death as “homicide” has all but assured denial of survivor benefits to Whitehead’s dependents since the only at-fault party being named in the case is the victim now that the shooter has been freed from prosecution. According to Cavaretta, the VA does pay out survivor benefits if the veteran could be shown to have caused their own demise. A representative from the national VA office confirmed Cavaretta’s assertions of denial reasoning, although the agency declined comments on case-specific questioning.

Cavaretta, who is the legal representative for Whitehead in VA matters, said the Marine was declared fully disabled before his death and that his surviving dependent compensation should pay the beneficiary between $1,000 and $1,700 per month and, to date, the family has lost at least $10,000 in funds they were rightfully owed.

In addition, Cavareeta said, the family has also been denied burial funds to this point. Whitehead’s sister, Brandy Boyett, has had to take the economic burden, even though she said it has taken a toll on her financially - even to the point where she couldn’t afford phone service. In her words, though, the main outcome she hopes to be afforded in the coming days is that Arnold won’t be in a position to take another ma’s life.

“I don’t want him to …  kill somebody else’s brother, somebody else’s father,” Boyett said. “I’ve got family all over the state. I don’t want to see them killed by this rogue cop.”

Cavaretta said he likewise hopes to see Arnold turned away sans a position in the Orange Police Department, but is pensive about the arbitration’s ruling.

“Lord, I hope with all there is in me that (Arnold) doesn’t get his job back,” Cavaretta said. “But, in a situation like this, you just never know how it’s gonna go.”