Tony, Just Admit It
An open letter to DA Rackauckas
It was great meeting you last Friday at your press conference about the bloodiest jailhouse murder in Orange County history. I have to say I wasn't exactly surprised to learn that the nine-month grand-jury investigation by your agency failed to uncover a single piece of evidence to charge any Orange County Sheriff's Department personnel for the Oct. 5, 2006, murder of John Chamberlain, a Mission Viejo software engineer who was awaiting trial at the Theo Lacy Men's Jail for possession of child porn. So far, you've arrested nine inmates who were staying at Theo Lacy's F Barracks that day and who you claim killed Chamberlain in a savage, more-than-20-minute beating inside a rectangular jail module with a guard tower in the middle that affords deputies a 360-degree view of the barracks.
But even though cameras should have captured the incident, deputies claimed the cameras weren't all turned on. All that was seen on tape was footage of deputies reacting to the incident. Deputies working the guard tower later told investigators they didn't see the attack because they were watching a baseball game on television.
I have an alternate theory about why that tape disappeared: One of those guards, Deputy Kevin Taylor, had told the inmates that Chamberlain was a child molester and that the good men of F Barracks needed to “clean house,” and then he and his colleagues did nothing to protect Chamberlain while that order was carried out, thus allowing what might have been a routine—for Orange County's jail system, at least—beatdown to turn into a animalistic orgy of murderous rage.
So here's my beef. I'm not privy to your grand-jury evidence, but I've spoken to inmates who were inside F Barracks when the attack took place, and they all agree Taylor was the guy who (wrongly, as it turned out) fingered Chamberlain as a child molester (see “Blind Spot,” March 30, 2007). One of those inmates said so even though he liked Taylor and felt he was the “best guard” at the jail. Taylor and the other guards at F Barracks could not possibly have not noticed what was, by all accounts, far more than nine inmates—possibly up to 20 or more—beating the living shit out of Chamberlain for more than 20 minutes.
It was obvious at the press conference that you knew all this. Yet, because there's no objective evidence—like, say, that tape recording that conveniently disappeared—proving either that the deputies facilitated Chamberlain's murder or watched it happen, you're not going to charge Taylor or any other deputy with destroying evidence, much less conspiracy to commit murder. You claim you are going to submit a report to the county Board of Supervisors that will go into a lot more detail about what your investigators found. You say you want that report to facilitate a “public dialogue” about how jail murders should be investigated and that Orange County needs to “clean up” its act. And you fretted at your press conference about observers who feel that Chamberlain “got what he deserved” and 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.”
“That,” you reckon, “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, that is exactly the “brand of justice” that exists inside the county's jails. And you just blew a perfect opportunity to take a bold step to address this embarrassment.
So please, Tony, the next time you talk about this case—maybe when you release that report you're promising us—please do us and yourself one favor: Just admit it that you don't have the balls . . . ahem, the political will to bust a deputy for what looks an awful lot like a deputy-assisted—or at least deputy-ignored—murder.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).