Sheriff Hutchens Has Her Laughing Mike Carona Moment with Capture of OC Jail Escapees

Carona laughing back in 2009
Carona laughing back in 2009
Photo by Beth Stirnaman

Nearly six years ago, former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona stood in front of a gaggle of reporters just outside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse and laughed. A jury had just cleared him of nearly all the felony corruption charges prosecutors had filed against him. Oh, they did find him guilty of witness tampering, but Carona didn't give a shit: he had won! Let Moxley set up the scene for you again:

He shamelessly spun his historic felony conviction and pending prison sentence into a celebration that included high-fives, hugs and laughter. With members of his fan club literally tap dancing (no, really, I saw it myself) in the courthouse hallway and cheering as if someone had scored a touchdown, he called the outcome “a miracle.” He credited God for the verdicts—presumably only the not-guilty ones—and then offended the criminal-justice system by declaring himself “innocent,” a bald-faced lie some in the mainstream media dutifully regurgitated.

What ended up happening? God laughed. For the shameless mugging, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Guilford sentenced Carona to 66 months in federal prison, haranguing him in court for the display. "I cannot understand the unrestrained celebration and proclamations of innocence and complete vindication," Judge Guilford said before sending Carona off to Club Fed.

Flash-forward to this past Saturday, when current Sheriff Sandra Hutchens—picked by the Board of Supervisors to replace Carona for her supposedly clean past—got infected by her felonious predecessor's hubris during a press conference outside Orange County Jail. She had just announced the capture of Hossein Nayeri and Jonathan Tieu, two of the three accused felons who had dramatically escaped out of the jail the week before (their accomplice, Bac Duong, had already turned himself in), in a story that made international headlines. 

“The entire state can breathe a sigh of relief,” Hutchens announced to the dutiful media crew before going on to talk and answer questions for 20 minutes in which she affected a gritted-teeth look because she could barely contain her glee. And then she did it: at the very end of the self-congratulatory press conference, when someone asked Hutchens how she reacted when learning about the recapture of the escapees, she laughed. "I think I did a big whoop in the air," she replied, as the echo chamber behind her—including Supervisors Todd Spitzer, Andrew Do, and Lisa Bartlett—chuckled.

To paraphrase the question that Esquire used to ask of Richard Nixon ever year: Why is this sheriff laughing?

Hutchens, in grimmer times
Hutchens, in grimmer times
Photo by John Gilhooley

There was absolutely nothing for Hutchens and her command team to celebrate. Don't believe the Orange County Register's post-capture blowjob of the Sheriff Department's social-media campaign to spread awareness of the escape. Their much-vaunted dragnet cracked nothing—Duong turned himself in to a woman he knew, while a San Francisco man who heard about the case on local TV alerted SFPD (not OC sheriffs) about Nayeri and Tieu after he saw their van in a Whole Foods parking lot. The three broke out with the help of at least one person from the inside and despite many internal warning signs that Nayeri, Duong and Tieu were planning something. This fiasco embarrassed her, her department, and is now leading to an internal revolt by the deputies union, which claims they had complained about the OC Jail's antiquated, decrepit state for years. Shit, even Hutchens' much-vaunted snitch system didn't chirp anything about the jailbreak.

Hutchens throughout the jail break
Hutchens throughout the jail break
Cartoon by BobAul

And yet Hutchens was laughing? She should've gotten her dogeza on. 
Of course, Hutchens has yet to laugh her last laugh. That'll happen when the voters of Orange County put her back in office despite her incompetence. Hey, Carona won his last reelection campaign under a far-worse cloud, so why shouldn't she?


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