Blind Spot

For OC jail inmate John Chamberlain, jailhouse justice served as judge, juryand executioner

That said, Davis adds, inmates are routinely disciplined for refusing to carry out an order from a shot-caller. "My client was probably within a month or so from being released on a nonviolent, drug-related charge," he explains. "You have to ask yourself, why would an individual take part in this? But when you are in custody, you have to follow what's set before you. It's also clear that most deputies know about these rules and regulations. I don't know if they support it, but they allow it to happen, and this may be one of those cases."

Joseph Cavallo, a longtime friend of Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona who famously, if not successfully, defended the son of Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl on rape charges, says his client, Michael Garten, had nothing to do with the beating. Garten, he insists, was bigger than most of the other inmates and therefore was able to refuse to participate. "He did not get involved," he says. "My client was in his cell the whole time and was called down to participate and refused."

Cavallo believes Taylor should be charged with murder. "Taylor called one of the shot-callers down personally," Cavallo says. "He advised him as to what he believed the sexual preferences were of the poor guy who was killed and told him where they could do it without being in the eye of the camera. And the ramifications were . . . very harsh. If you don't, you get it yourself—anything from death to very serious bodily harm."

Cavallo says he sees no conflict of interest in the fact that he currently faces corruption charges in an Orange County jail-bond scam brought by Deputy DA Baytieh, the same prosecutor trying his client for murder. Attorneys for the other two inmates charged in the murder, Garrett Aguilar and Stephen Carlstrom, did not respond to interview requests.

More than six months after John Chamberlain's death, the DA's office claims it has two investigators assigned to examine evidence that one or more guards may have exposed him as a sex offender, leading to his brutal murder. "All we are saying on the subject is that the matter is under investigation and it is our policy to not discuss any details before the completion of the investigation," says DA spokesperson Susan Kang Schroeder.

Jerry Steering, the lawyer who filed the $20 million claim against the sheriff's department on behalf of Chamberlain's family, says he doesn't expect any deputy to be disciplined in the case. "That's never going to happen in a million years," he says. "Are you joking?" Steering adds that on Jan. 10, he asked for a copy of the videotapes from the F-West bubble—tapes that might show Chamberlain being led to his death in full view of the guards and possibly the crime itself. "They refused to give it to me," he says. "They're never going to give it to me. I doubt there still is a videotape at this point."

Steering's cynicism may seem extreme, but Deputy DA Baytieh concurs. "If you're asking me if there's a smoking gun to this case, there isn't." he says. "There is no videotape showing the beating."

It's also worth noting that no sheriff's deputy has ever been charged in connection with a beating inside the Orange County jail system, despite overwhelming evidence of abuse going back decades. In the late 1980s, deputies inside the Men's Central Jail carried out such ruthless beatings against mostly African-American inmates that they became known among inmates and plaintiffs' attorneys as the "Psycho Crew."

In 2000, Register reporters Aldrin Brown and John McDonald revealed how deputies crushed the testicles of an inmate. Prosecutors failed to find enough evidence to charge the deputies because none of their colleagues would testify against them. And the Psycho Crew? Now it's an equal opportunity enterprise. In 2003, I reported on a series of beatings of mostly white inmates inside the Orange County Men's Central Jail that led to a hunger strike (see "Equal-Opportunity Psycho Crew," Aug. 21, 2003). Also that year, several inmates at Theo Lacy told me how deputies pepper-sprayed an inmate and held him down while they punched him in the face when he refused to comply with an order (see "Open Big House, Nov. 6, 2003).

And last year, my colleague R. Scott Moxley revealed how deputies allegedly beat a white supremacist and murder suspect named Billy Joe Johnson like a piŮata, hanging him by his feet and pulling his face along the concrete floor (see "The Trials of Billy Joe, White Supremacist," Feb. 16, 2006). After the attack, deputies allegedly warned witnesses to keep their mouths shut.

Although dozens of inmates witnessed the beating that killed John Chamberlain, one ex-prisoner says he refused to share with DA investigators the name of any inmate who participated. "I refused to give the DA any names," he says. "Nobody wants to be a rat. But they knew about Deputy Taylor. Afterwards, I went up to him and said, 'It doesn't look good.' And he said, 'For who?' and I said, 'For you.'"

According to the inmate, the guard didn't respond. "He knows he screwed up," he says. "It's too bad. I liked Taylor, and he liked me. He was, in my opinion, the best guard there."

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