At a press conference this afternoon at the District Attorney's headquarters in Santa Ana, DA Tony Rackauckas announced that a nine-month grand jury investigation by his agency failed to uncover any evidence to charge any Orange County Sheriff's Department personnel for the most bloody murder in the history of the county's jail system.
Rackauckas had just finished a brief appearance at OC Superior Court Judge Thomas Borris' courtroom, where three inmates were charged with the Oct. 5, 2006 murder of inmate John Chamberlain, a Mission Viejo software engineer who was awaiting trial at the Theo Lacy Men's Jail for possession of child porn. Last February, the DA's office had charged six other inmates with the brutal murder, which allegedly began when deputy Kevin Taylor told a white inmate that Chamberlain was a child molester and thus deserving of jailhouse justice.
The attack took place inside the F Barracks of Theo Lacy, a rectangular jail module with a guard tower in the middle that affords deputies a 360-degree view of the barracks. For 20 minutes, according to eyewitnesses interviewed by the Weekly, (see "Blind Spot," March 9, 2007), at least two dozen inmates savagely beat Chamberlain to death. Although cameras should have recorded the incident, deputies claimed the tape recording device malfunctioned. All that remained on tape was footage of deputies reacting to the incident. Deputies working the guard tower, including Taylor, later told investigators they didn't see the attack because they were watching a Dodgers game on television.
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At the press conference, Rackauckas made clear he didn't feel that the deputies or their superiors were blameless in what happened, but insisted that testimony by inmates who claimed they'd been instructed to beat up Chamberlain wasn't sufficient evidence for prosecution. "If we could have proven a case that any member of the Sheriff's Department, from the lowest-ranking to the top of the department, was criminally responsible for the death of Mr. Chamberlain, there is no question that indictments would have been issued," he said.
Rackauckas then added a bizarre personal statement that had many at the press conference scratching their heads. "On the other hand, some have suggested that Chamberlain got what he deserved. Others have even suggested that we should set up inmates in jail to mete out their own brand of justice or pit them up against each other in gladiator fashion. Of course, that would reduce our justice system to the level of criminals."
But Tony, as this case you just spent the better part of a year "investigating" clearly shows, it is exactly that "brand of justice" that is happening inside the county's jails.
Apparently unaware of the irony of his own comments, Rackauckas finished his speech by insisting that although no deputies or higher-ups would be charged, he wasn't done with his probe of jail abuses. He said he'd be submitting a report to county supervisors in several weeks outlining what his investigation found and suggesting certain unspecified jail reforms. "I want this report to facilitate a public dialog about how in-custody deaths should be investigated in Orange County," he said. "We are going to discuss what penal reforms should take place in Orange County and clean up our act."