Newly Released Court Evidence Reveals Unconstitutional Orange County Jail Scams
Judge Thomas M. Goethals is still wondering why he can't get Orange County's sheriff to fully comply with his orders
A California Superior Court judge today released portions of a once secret Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) records system that proves officers committed perjury in at least two death penalty cases, hid evidence in murder trials and routinely conducted unconstitutional operations with jail informants to help prosecutors convict unwitting defendants.
The "Special Handling Log" should have been surrendered in 2013 following Judge Thomas M. Goethals discovery orders in People v. Scott Dekraai, but Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and her staff employed a series of underhanded maneuvers to stonewall the process, blocking anyone outside the OCSD from learning about the evidence.
Though a cautious Goethals released less than one third of the 1,157 log pages, the remaining unreacted entries provide insight into various topics of how deputies conducted scams to illegally obtain evidence against in-custody, pre-trial defendants: by creating informant tanks and enticements for snitches to befriend and then question government targets about their charges and defense strategies; planting narcotics on snitches and then fake punishing them to mislead other inmates about their trustworthiness; shredding evidence tied to high-profile cases without anybody's knowledge; and working with prosecutors and numerous local police agencies to run "capers" like wiring certain cells with recording devices, evidence that's been largely hidden from defense lawyers.
One of the last notes in the log is perhaps the most damning single entry. Written within days of the judge's discovery orders, the deputies decided to remove the "Special Handling Log" name, so—in a cynical plausible deniability ploy—nobody would know what agency database to identify for information requests.
These disclosures are additional blows to Hutchens' already wrecked credibility. The sheriff spent three years insisting she was sincerely searching for the OCSD records and continually claimed to be flummoxed. Her stance first unraveled in late 2014 when Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders learned the department had been hiding a records systems called TRED, which contained information contradictory of law enforcement narratives in dozens of criminal cases.
Then, after last February's inadvertent revelation of a second hidden system, the log, Hutchens claimed those records, which were stored on department computers by on-duty deputies, weren't official and, therefore, shouldn't be released. When Goethals hinted in August he would not likely seal the entire log from public consumption, the sheriff flip-flopped, arguing the log was critical to daily jail operations, murders and mayhem would result if discovered, and that she was entitled to an official government information "privilege" to keep it secret.
Smoking Gun: A January 2013 log entry recorded deputies plotting how to hide the database after receiving a discovery order in a death penalty case
The sheriff lost efforts to maintain total secrecy with the judge and the California Court of Appeal.
Goethals scheduled a Dec. 16 hearing, in part, to learn what other relevant records are missing, especially ones created in the supposedly now unnamed database.
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