Seven months after OC Weekly declared it was time for Sandra Hutchens to step aside, the scandal-scarred Orange County sheriff announced today she will not seek re-election next year.
Hutchens’ decision comes in the wake of Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals’ recent order that she must take the witness stand under oath next week in People v. Scott Dekraai, the controversial, pending death-penalty case stemming from the worst mass killing in county history.
The top of local law-enforcement agencies, Hutchens and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, took what was widely considered a slam-dunk capital-punishment prosecution and, thinking nobody would ever discover their misdeeds, cheated to ensure that Dekraai, who’d confessed immediately after the shooting, landed on San Quentin State Prison’s death row.
The 2011 case stalled following revelation after revelation of systemic, underhanded government plots that reached far beyond Dekraai and proved an organized effort to secretly rob pretrial defendants of their constitutional rights.
During the four-year-old scandal that’s earned national attention, Hutchens and Rackauckas have tried to blame the other for the mess while echoing each other in disingenuous denials of committing any wrongdoing.
The sheriff entered Orange County’s establishment on an optimistic note, guaranteeing the public she would be a reformist after the county Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to appoint her in 2008 as the replacement for Mike Carona, who’d been arrested by the FBI and IRS for corruption and landed in federal prison for 66 months.
Hutchens, a longtime registered Democrat before switching parties with her emergence on the political scene dominated by conservatives, won elections in 2010 and 2014.
But her empty smile and equally empty promises eventually collapsed under the weight of an undeniable reality: She’s a good talker, but, like Rackauckas, she’s a liar who has repeatedly abused the public trust by acting as if she is above the law.
Goethals has been waiting more than three and a half years for her to fully comply with his lawfully issued discovery orders for records in Dekraai.
Shifting between playing idiots Gomer Pyle and Barney Fife, Hutchens has hidden or destroyed critical records that we now know help to prove her deputies conducted unconstitutional jailhouse operations with informants to aid Rackauckas’ prosecutors in winning weak cases with unwitting juries.
Under her watch, scandals erupted on a regular basis. For example, there was an insanely easy jailbreak of three dangerous inmates; the disgraceful harassment of a deputy who earned White House honors for life-saving combat heroics as a Marine in Iraq; an Asian gangster/killer/inmate who enjoyed more than 30 sex dates in the central jail’s public reception area and—you can’t make this up—filmed a porno with a woman who routinely smuggled in contraband such as sex toys and drugs; inhuman jail conditions; hypersensitivity to criticism from underlings; and the use of surveillance cameras to spy on ex-county Supervisor Chris Norby, who dared question her fitness for the job.
Hutchens, a former high-ranking member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, has identified her chosen undersheriff Don Barnes as the person she would like to replace her.