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Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story erroneously mischaracterized Knoblock’s motion. Knoblock is proposing that James be removed from the mayor pro tem role.

By Shawn Raymundo

Controversy over a police recording in which Mayor Pro Tem Gene James can be heard confronting and arguing with a sheriff’s deputy has incited a call by Councilmember Steve Knoblock to demote James from the mayor pro tem role.

On Tuesday night, Sept. 28, just as the council was preparing to adjourn its meeting, Knoblock gave a sharp rebuke against James and his treatment toward the deputy who had pulled over the mayor pro tem for a suspected traffic violation in late June.

“San Clemente is better than that. It is not fitting that an individual with this attitude or lack of decorum should serve in one of our city’s highest positions,” Knoblock said just before proposing that the council consider removing James as mayor pro tem at its next meeting in early October.

Ferguson, who participated in the meeting remotely, immediately seconded the motion, officially placing the item for discussion on the Oct. 5 council meeting.

Addressing Knoblock’s motion following Tuesday night’s session, James said “we’ll see what happens next Tuesday.”

In the nearly 11-minute audio recording of the June 25 traffic stop, James denied any wrongdoing and was—as police described in written reports—“confrontational,” “visibly upset” and “defensive.” James also accused the officer, Deputy J. Medina, of pulling the elected official over because of Capt. Edward Manhart, the city’s then-police chief.

When asked whether he was remorseful about his interaction with the officer, James apologized for his behavior toward Medina, and expressed regret for his actions during the stop.

“I wasn’t at my finest moment. If I could take it back, I really would like to take it back. The deputy didn’t deserve that,” James said, adding, “I apologize to the community and I apologize to the deputy.”

James on Tuesday night pointed to an apparent rift between himself and Manhart that, he said, influenced his interaction with the deputy.

“There were influences that were in the background, relating to Capt. Manhart’s statements he made about me, which had an influence on my interaction with the deputy and for that I’m wrong,” James said.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department previously described the relationship between James and Manhart, who was reassigned to OCSD’s air support in mid-July, as a “professional working” one.

Knoblock’s motion on Tuesday night had followed a series of remarks from three members of the public who criticized James over the confrontation with the deputy. Knoblock asked James whether he wanted to issue a statement in response.

Before James could say anything, Mayor Kathy Ward interjected, stating her belief that it’s inappropriate to ask for such a comment on the dais. Knoblock then proceeded to give his own comment on the matter.

“The mayor pro tem’s actions reflect poorly on this body, our community at large and especially on our young people whom we train to show courtesy and respect for our police officers,” Knoblock said.

The council will next meet at the San Clemente Community Center on Oct. 5 at 6 p.m.

SR_1Shawn Raymundo
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.

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comments (2)

  • San Clemente residents are very concerned about Mayor Pro Tem James’ recent unethical conduct regarding the release of closed session discussion in a recent article in the Voice of OC, San Clemente City Councilwoman Sues City Over Access to Public Records.

    https://voiceofoc.org/2021/09/san-clemente-city-councilwoman-sues-city-over-access-to-public-records/?fbclid=IwAR2PxJtQg91s9KDe2KahigwGHq_BNTSLxMEFm09YFCE1kijXXWiDcgij8Dc

    San Clemente residents are wondering why the City Council is not calling for the immediate censorship of Mayor Pro Tem James? For his following statements:

    “I have reviewed documentation from the investigation and there were six attempts to have Ferguson be interviewed by the investigator in which she has refused to cooperate,” James said in a Monday text message. “

    His statements have to be closed session discussion and when is the City going to censure him for disclosure of closed session discussion?

    Mayor Pro Tem James, further adds, “This lawsuit appears to be nothing more than a distraction to direct attention away from this investigation and her pattern of abusive behavior.”

    Mayor Pro Tem James appears to have made some libelous statements, which surely could have legal consequences for possible defamation of character and harassment.
    Not to mention that days before the Voice of OC article came out, a member of the Chamber of Commerce and a friend of Gene James shared this closed session discussion on a social media page. This is proof that Gene James has also shared this closed session information with him.

    This isn’t the first time within the past couple weeks, where Mayor Pro Tem James has been in the media for his unprofessional and unethical behavior. His horrifically disrespectful treatment of Deputy Medina, his apparent abuse of power by using his Mayor Pro Tem status to call Captain Manhart is inexcusable. Most importantly, slamming on his brakes could have caused serious injury and harm to the Deputy and drivers behind him. This is especially important since the Deputy was on a motorcycle and injury can easily occur. Not to mention that Deputy Medina had his emergency lights and his forward-facing light on and MPT James, even admitted to seeing the Deputy and therefore there had no reason to slam on his brakes besides a possible a lack of regard for the value of human life.

    As a long time resident, I am requesting the immediate removal of Gene James’ title of “Mayor Pro Tem” at the very least because of his unethical and unprofessional conduct to exploit his position.

    I am also wanting the immediate censorship of Gene James for disclosing Closed Session discussion.

  • And while this verbal slip fight goes on. In the real world San Clemente still hold the racist ole Hanson in hi regard, and persecutes blue collar workers for using pick up trucks to haul their ladders and equipment. A law founded by self proclaim sophisticates and racist snobs.

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