Orange County's Embarrassing Jailhouse Snitch Scandal Now Turns Violent

Defense lawyer James Crawford in the aftermath of a courthouse beating he says was committed by a DA investigatorEXPAND
Defense lawyer James Crawford in the aftermath of a courthouse beating he says was committed by a DA investigator
Photo courtesy of Jerry Steering

James Crawford, a criminal defense lawyer who recently defeated the Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA) in a major case tied to the region's ongoing jailhouse informant scandal, claims an OCDA employee assaulted him on a 10th floor courthouse hallway this morning.

Crawford's swollen face and bloody shirt resulted after one of DA Tony Rackauckas' investigators "pummeled" him in the midst of a brief, terse exchange about who was more sleazy: defense lawyers exposing the systematic cheating involving jailhouse informants or prosecutors and police who've repeatedly violated constitutional rights and hidden evidence to win convictions.

According to Irvine-based lawyer Jerry Steering, who is representing Crawford, the investigator, whose identity the Weekly is not publishing until it's officially confirmed, grabbed his client, knocked him to the floor, jumped on him and then "punched him at least 10 times in the face" before officers in the courthouse pulled him away. 

"This guy socks him and knocks his socks off," said Steering, who specializes in pursuing police corruption cases and plans to file a civil lawsuit.

KTLA aired a juror's photograph of blood spattered on a hallway floor and bench, and reported witnesses saw the DA staffer, employed at the agency since 2011 following a career as a Southern California police officer, throwing unreturned punches.

According to court records obtained by the Weekly, Crawford had been in the courthouse "as a friend of the court" to advise a witness, Berenice Gonzalez, in People v. Adrian Arroyo when, according to Steering, the DA investigator, who made more than $206,000 in total compensation in 2014, asked him "who the fuck he was."

Courthouse officers refused to make an arrest, though if it had been the defense lawyer who'd attacked the cop, he'd be sitting in custody now and facing a felony charge.

On Feb. 25, a dogged Crawford won a new trial for Henry Rodriguez over the strenuous objections of Rackauckas' staff after Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals determined law enforcement authorities had sabotaged the defendant's fair trial rights with the illegal, secret use of a snitch.

That outcome is one of the numerous courthouse victories stemming from Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders' historic investigation into snitch abuses tainting dozens and dozens of cases. Sanders' work has earned nationwide cries for the U.S. Department of Justice to probe both Sheriff Sandra Hutchens' operations as well as Rackauckas'. Both officials insist all errors were innocent mistakes and complain that their reputations have been unfairly tarnished.

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This latest, unexpected episode might also be due to the DA, who hasn't hidden his hostile contempt for defense lawyers and journalists informing the public about the scandal.

But law enforcement sources tell the Weekly the DA investigator is considered a well-respected professional among his colleagues and, while admitting they didn't witness events, doubt he would have responded with violence unless sufficiently provoked.

Declining media inquiries, Rackauckas' media flacks claim the agency is "fully cooperating" with deputies investigating the "incident" and expect the matter to eventually be referred to the California Attorney General's office. 

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