A California superior court judge today expressed bewilderment at the brazen willingness of sheriff's deputies to violate his court orders by hiding evidence and lying in People v. Scott Dekraai, a death penalty case that revealed massive, systemic law enforcement cheating with jailhouse informants in Orange County.
In this latest episode, Judge Thomas M. Goethals said he was “shaking my head” that 1,157 new pages of hidden OCSD logs in Dekraai have finally been surrendered to him.
“At best, I'm disappointed that these documents washed ashore more than three years after my discovery order,” Goethals said. “I'm also disturbed that these documents should have been disclosed a long, long time ago.”
Speaking on behalf of Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, Deputy County Counsel Liz Pejeau asked that most, if not, all of the records be kept hidden from Dekraai's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders.
Pejeau fears Sanders will use the revelations to “embarrass” Hutchens, who has issued angry denial statements at odds with overwhelming evidence of her department's tainted practices.
But Goethals refused the blanket secrecy request, observing, “It is clear there is significant discoverable material in these logs.”
He is giving Pejeau a month to concoct specific reasons for every entry the sheriff wants to remain hidden and tentatively scheduled a Sept. 22 hearing to issue his findings.
The judge also declared that the logs contradict prior sworn deputy testimony denying the existence of a jailhouse informant program.
“The deputies repeatedly talk about plans, operations and capers involving informants,” he said about the logs.
While working on Dekraai in 2013, Sanders unraveled a complex maze created by OCSD, police detectives and prosecutors to hide arguably thousands of secret operations using jailhouse snitches to question pre-trial inmates in violation of constitutional protections.
The case has been on hold for nearly 18 months while a state court of appeal considers Goethals' order recusing District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and his entire agency after announcing he didn't have confidence they too would obey basic ethical rules.
Sanders told Goethals he will eventually repeat a prior unsuccessful attempt to block the death penalty as punishment for Dekraai, who committed Orange County's worse mass shooting in Seal Beach in 2011, because of extensive, wildly unnecessary law enforcement cheating.
“The death penalty would be cruel and unusual because the prosecution team cannot be relied upon to turnover favorable evidence,” he said.
Sanders also called it “farfetched” that deputies continue to insist they weren't aware of their own records and therefore couldn't surrender them.
At the end of the hearing, prosecutor Dan Wagner—who claimed in 2013 he'd surrendered all necessary evidence to Sanders—advised Goethals there are even more “additional documents” that have been hidden and will be turned over in coming weeks.
Given that California Attorney General and current U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris refuses to hold Hutchens or Rackauckas accountable for unrepentant corruption, alarmed legal experts across the nation have demanded a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.