Robert Eringer, the sharp-tongued writer who penned a weekly Santa Barbara News-Press column called “The Investigator,” announced on Friday that he’ll be writing for the daily newspaper no more. Eringer provided no details as to the terms and conditions of his departure and, when pressed, stated that contractual obligations precluded him from commenting further. At the time of his departure, Eringer had written a second blistering column about the City of Santa Barbara’s Police Chief Cam Sanchez, using the recent not-guilty jury verdict rendered against Mesa resident Wayne Scoles – who’d been unsuccessfully prosecuted for threatening the chief – as his point of departure.
That column did not run this past Saturday, its customary publication day. In its place was a new historical column called “Yester Years,” written by Justin Ruhge, on the arrival of the railroad to Santa Barbara. Eringer emailed copies of his unpublished column along with the announcement of his departure.
Unconfirmed accounts suggested that the News-Press refused to run the column – an opinion piece written in a newsy voice – because Eringer never contacted Chief Sanchez for his side of the story. Eringer said he could not comment. Don Katich, director of news operations at the News-Press, explained, “Robert and I never had discussions regarding the fact that he never spoke with Cam Sanchez and I would be surprised if an investigative reporter would not get both sides of the story.” He added, “If Robert didn’t get both sides of the story, I would be surprised.”
According to Eringer’s contract with the News-Press, either side could terminate the contract for any reason at any time. Katich said the News-Press opted to exercise that option last week. “We want as much local content in our pages originating from our news staff as possible,” he elaborated. Speaking generally, Katich, who has been in charge of news operations for about five months, said, “I want the News-Press to be the source for information vital to the community’s needs, where we represent both sides of the issue and let our readers determine for themselves the merits of either side. Personal attacks and hearsay has not been what this paper has been about and it’s not what it will be about.”
Eringer’s latest column was personal in both tone and content, painting Sanchez in a highly unflattering light. It was the second such piece since the Scoles verdict came out two weeks ago. In that trial, jurors reported they did not find the chief’s testimony compelling enough to find Scoles guilty. On the witness stand, Scoles denied making threats, as well as many of the racist remarks Sanchez attributed to him. Scoles did, however, admit telling the chief to go back to San Jose so he could sell stolen hubcaps at the swap meet there. He denied this remark, however, was racist.
Two witnesses – one a friend of Scoles and the other a woman reading in a nearby car – heard the verbal confrontation between Scoles and Sanchez and testified they never heard the threats Sanchez alleged Scoles made. The encounter between Scoles and the chief took place last year near a parking lot at Shoreline Park after a wedding celebration held by the Sanchez family.
Eringer’s first column lionized Scoles as an heroic everyman, while casting Sanchez as dishonest cop. Physically imposing, Scoles is well known at City Hall for the intense and scorching critiques he regularly delivers of city services before the City Council. Some council members have expressed concern that Scoles might become physically violent; others have applauded the vigor with which he exercises his First Amendment rights.
But for Sanchez, the verdict has been nothing less than an embarrassment, and he has declined to discuss the matter since. Last week, Scoles filed several complaints against Sanchez, claiming he lied repeatedly on the witness stand, and against police investigator Jaycee Hunter, claiming he used deceitful methods when interrogating Scoles.