Despite being labeled an unapologetic liar and a cheater, a onetime Orange County deputy district attorney steeped in the ongoing jailhouse snitch scandal has landed a new government job bringing his talents to serve the residents of Nebraska’s largest city.
Omaha’s KETV reported over the weekend that Erik Petersen, who resigned in 2015 and tried unsuccessfully to grab a federal prosecutor’s position, began working as an assistant city attorney last week and will represent the public after he finishes training.
City Attorney Paul Kratz told the station’s David Earl that Petersen was the top applicant for the job and, oddly, absolved him of wrongdoing in a scandal that prompted legal scholars across the nation to demand a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of constitutional abuses committed here by police, sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors.
Kratz claims The State Bar of California investigated and cleared Petersen of violating legal rules, though it’s fuzzy if there was an official probe and what case or cases, if any, it focused on.
Laura Emde, spokeswoman for the Bar, confirmed this morning that her organization’s probes are by law confidential unless they result in disciplinary action — meaning she can’t confirm or deny whether there was an investigation.
Nonetheless, Kratz told Earl, “You can’t paint a broad brush and blame him for everything that happened or for anything that happened.”
Of course, nobody has blamed Petersen—whose antics The New York Times highlighted in a September 2015 editorial on “dishonest prosecutors”—for the entire scandal, but there’s no doubt he played a major role.
Consider this summary timeline:
+ In March 2014, Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals recused Petersen from the prosecution of Marcus Allen Jeffries after determining he’d repeatedly failed to surrender records that tainted the government’s case.
+ In September 2014, two counts of special circumstances murder were dropped against Isaac Palacios who was allowed to plead guilty to a lone count of second degree murder and immediately released back into society after Petersen failed to surrender evidence that law enforcement violated Massiah, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bans government officials (and their agents, like informants) from soliciting incriminating statements from pre-trial inmates who’ve been charged and have legal representation.
+ In February 2015, Leonel Vega saw his special circumstances murder conviction vacated after evidence emerged Petersen failed to disclose key records that included proof of even more Massiah violations.
+ In March 2015, Goethals recused the entire Orange County district attorney’s office (OCDA) from People v. Scott Dekraai, a death penalty case, and slammed Petersen for repeatedly giving misleading testimony during special evidentiary hearings into law enforcement corruption.
+ In June 2015, seven gang defendants District Attorney Tony Rackauckas promised would never be released from custody received significantly reduced sentences like credit for time served after Petersen’s prized investigator, deputy Seth Tunstall, refused to testify for fear of perjury charges.
+ In August 2015, accused killer Brian Islas saw the DA’s office drop its pursuit of a life prison term in exchange for a five-year punishment after Petersen failed to turn over records that proved a new round of Massiah violations.
+ In October 2015, Petersen was forced to testify about illegal tactics used a year earlier to convict Eric Ortiz of murder and saw that outcome overturned.
+ In March 2016, the Weekly reported that Petersen previously had threatened to jail a innocent witness who’d refused to alter his crime scene observations in the Ortiz case that didn’t match law enforcement’s version of reality and a jury voted 10-2 against OCDA’s charges after a retrial.
Indeed, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who unraveled the complex snitch scandal in January 2014, blasted the tactics employed by Petersen and his police investigators in the Vega case.
“They repeatedly misled the court and [defense lawyers] through deceptive statements, material omissions and suborned perjury,” a Sanders’ court filing states.
Kratz claims his new employee “deserves a second chance.”
But if Petersen’s troubling history is any indicator, we send this sentiment to the midwest: Good luck, Omaha.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.