DA drops charges against SLO firefighter accused of threatening to shoot minorities

Richard Orcutt

The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office dropped its case last week against a retired SLO city firefighter who was accused of threatening to shoot minorities. [Tribune]

Prosecutors made the decision to drop the charges against Richard Orcutt, 63, after an FBI handwriting expert found it was unlikely the retired firefighter authored threatening letters to San Luis Obispo property management companies.

Orcutt, who worked for the San Luis Obispo Fire Department for more than 30 years, was arrested by officers in June 2019. The police department accused Orcutt of sending threatening letters on Hallmark cards to property management companies, property owners and possibly renters of homes on his street, Cavalier Lane . 

The Hallmark cards displayed an American flag and contained no return address or name, police said. Letters included in court records instructed property managers not to rent to Chinese or Mexican tenants. 

“They have ruined our neighborhood. You or your renters will be shot if you do,” some letters stated.

Orcutt pleaded not guilty to eight felony charges of threatening to commit a crime of violence and possessing and assault weapon. Some of the charges came with hate crime enhancements. 

The retired firefighter faced up to 15 years in state prison if convicted of the charges and enhancements. 

Orcutt’s attorneys argued their client did not write the letters and is not a racist. Orcutt claims he was set up by someone who lied about him and intentionally filed a false police report. 

Additionally, Orcutt has received deaths threats since news of his arrest broke, his attorneys said.

Sheriff’s and state Department of Justice forensics investigators could not find any of Orcutt’s fingerprints or DNA on the letters, making the prosecution’s case largely dependent on the finding of an FBI expert document examiner. The FBI examiner conducted three separate analyses comparing the actual threatening letters to letters Orcutt rewrote verbatim.

The FBI examiner concluded Orcutt may not have been the author, suggesting there were significant dissimilarities between the actual letters and Orcutt’s rewrites. 

On Sept. 24, the prosecution made a motion to dismiss the case, which Judge Jesse Marino accepted. 

However, prosecutors argue Orcutt’s cache of weapons that authorities seized during a search of his home should not be returned. Prior to Orcutt’s June 2019 arrest, detectives served a search warrant at his home and found handguns, rifles, shotguns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, police said. Authorities seized a total of 37 firearms, according to the district attorney’s office.

Prosecutors argue, under federal law, Orcutt is banned for life from possessing firearms because of a 1998 misdemeanor domestic violence conviction. Orcutt’s attorney plans to argue against the district attorney’s office’s interpretation of the law.