Hearing how Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) management describes its jail system, you might guess there would be a line of vacationers eagerly awaiting entry each day. “Inmates have access to television, outdoor recreation, local newspapers, mail, commissary purchases (minor grocery-store food items and sundries) and special programs,” OCSD has proclaimed, as if selling a resort. “Inmates also receive medical, mental-health and dental care. Religious services and vocational and educational programs are also offered.”
Opened 51 years ago, the county’s Men’s Central Jail is, in truth, an eerie, drab, concrete-and-steel bunker that could have been designed by a sadistic 1960s Soviet Union bureaucrat. Though there are plenty of decent people who work inside, the environment is made worse by not only felonious individuals, but also demented deputies. These particular officers have proven over the decades that their barbaric imaginations know no bounds, even when dealing with pretrial inmates who haven’t been convicted of any crime and couldn’t afford bail while their cases snail-slid to an eventual jury.
That reality, befitting third-world dictatorships, has existed regardless of who is sheriff in a Southern California coastal county with a population larger than 20 states. Adding insult, the department is shameless in its counter propaganda. “[We are] dedicated to providing safe and secure facilities for those entrusted to our care,” OCSD reported. “It is ingrained in our departmental character to uphold the law and is professionally delivered with the utmost integrity.”
Facts show otherwise, as hundreds of Weekly articles have documented. In the quarter of a century of covering public corruption in Orange County, I’ve seen repeated examples of every type of deputy malfeasance, including blatantly unnecessary shootings and killings, destruction of exculpatory evidence for defendants, perjury, unconstitutional scams to aid prosecutors, rapes, misuse of valuable public property, falsification of official documents to mask colleagues’ misdeeds, and, for sheer entertainment, cell arrangements designed to fuel gladiator-like battles between inmates. When those events weren’t entertaining enough, deputies have fired paintballs at startled inmates sitting on toilets.
I’ve also interviewed dozens and dozens of citizens who claimed to have been abused by deputies. These alleged victims displayed fresh bruises, broken limbs and scars to demonstrate horrific experiences. And there are others awaiting trial who haven’t emerged alive.
That’s why there is real concern for 30-year-old pretrial inmate Josh Waring, whose mother, Lauri Peterson, starred in Bravo’s Real Housewives of Orange County series from 2006 to 2008.
Deputies loathe Waring for multiple reasons, including he played the primary role in exposing OCSD’s latest scandal over their illegal surveillance of inmate communications with defense attorneys and helped lead a hunger strike to protest the continual mistreatment of other inmates.
He’s now the poster victim underscoring the depths of remorseless corruption at Sheriff Don Barnes’ 4,000-employee department with a billion-dollar annual budget.
In August, after hearing detailed reports that Waring had been beaten and psychologically tortured by deputies, I notified Barnes’ executive staff that reporters were watching. But instead of delivering jail safety with the self-proclaimed “utmost of integrity,” deputies may have responded by creating situations in which other inmates have gotten opportunities to attack Waring, which is quite a feat given he’s in a “total separation” section of protective custody.
Joel Garson, Waring’s attorney, says Barnes’ staff has “engaged in a scheme to severely injure or kill” Josh. According to Garson, officers retaliated against his client by concocting a lame excuse to move him for 10 days to the “HOLE,” a dark cell with a defective toilet and the smell of feces and urine. On another occasion, Josh was stripped, thrown in a cold cell, denied his seizure medicine and ignored for two days.
Waring’s divorced parents fear the worst. “This is a tragedy,” Peterson recently complained to OCSD staff. His father, Phillip Waring, told the Weekly the department is “trying to break him.” Or worse: have him carried out of jail in a body bag.
For decades, jail deputies secretly trampled firm constitutional rights for in-custody, pretrial defendants who had been charged and had legal representation by enticing snitches to slyly befriend before questioning them about their cases. Such illegally obtained information was used without a judge or jury’s knowledge to secure convictions for prosecutors. The M.O. is simple: When those informants hit the witness stand, they falsely claim the government’s target confessed without prompting. They also testify they came forward only for noble societal motives—not personal rewards, even though they quietly receive cash payments, jail perks and, when nobody is paying attention, even reduced sentences at a later date for their own crimes.
What is known nationally as the Orange County jailhouse-informant scandal isn’t based on wild conjecture, as claimed by the sheriff’s department. Its ugliness has been confirmed not only by the more than 20 murder, attempted-murder and felony-assault cases the scandal has so far upended. In a historically blistering 2016 ruling, the California Court of Appeal declared that OCSD cheating went “well beyond simply distasteful or improper” and is “real” and, to underscore their 53-page rebuke, “grave.”
We learned last year that jail deputies weren’t just cheating with snitches to sabotage trials. At the same time, unbeknownst to the world, they were clandestinely monitoring privileged telephone calls between defendants and their attorneys while courthouse strategies and case details were discussed. That’s another constitutional no-no any first-year community-college law-enforcement student understands.
This newest embarrassing scandal would have remained hidden if not for People v. Waring. Defense attorney Garson discovered that deputies had recorded attorney-client calls involving Waring, who has struggled with substance abuse, and handed them over for investigation to George Maridakis, a detective with the Costa Mesa Police Department (CMPD). According to February 2018 testimony, Maridakis listened to the recordings, and then shared gleaned trial-strategy information with prosecutors. Those revelations forced the sheriff’s department and Global Tel*Link (GTL), the jail phone-system contractor, to admit Waring hadn’t been the only abused defendant. Efforts to determine the true extent of the unethical OCSD surveillance is the subject of pending litigation inside Orange County Superior Court.
It’s understandable why win-at-all-costs law-enforcement officials would believe they needed to cheat against Waring. Their 2016 attempted-murder case against him contains weaknesses. For example, two vehicles—a dark-blue sedan driven by Bryan Jason Goldstein and a white BMW SUV driven by Waring—were seen on the street near a shooting not far from South Coast Plaza. Daniel Lopez, the victim who was hit in the crotch, insisted the bullets had been fired from the blue sedan. Intense, multiday CMPD pressure to get him to place the shooter in the white SUV failed.
As I’ve previously reported, a police dispatcher had broadcast the following alert after Lopez’s interview at the crime scene: “Okay, the subject we are looking for, the name is going to be Bryan Goldstein. White male wearing a black-and-white basketball-style tank top. Tattoos . . .”
Goldstein is a fascinating character who loves to talk. A drug addict and dealer, he has been in and out of jail, often after securing incredibly lenient punishment. He’s also been known to carry guns, according to police reports. But why would officers quickly move from him in the Lopez shooting case to Waring? There are witnesses who think the cops got it right, but how to explain law enforcement’s decision to give Waring a gunshot-residue test after the incident–which came back negative, but not Goldstein, who was also detained after being caught in hiding?
Could the explanation be that Goldstein is a veteran police snitch roaming around Orange County’s drug- and white-supremacy-infested underworld? Three weeks before the Costa Mesa shooting, he was in a seedy Anaheim motel room where a fellow drug dealer, whom he went to visit for narcotics, ended up murdered. A June 2018 jury, which heard his wildly implausible account of events, didn’t buy him blaming another drug addict for the killing. But police did, and Goldstein escaped charges.
On Aug. 18, I received an agitated message. “Sorry to bother you, but Josh just called me, and he’s frantic,” his father told me. “In the last two weeks, deputies tackled him to the ground, [and then stomped] their feet on his back. During the time deputies were beating him, he suffered a black eye and multiple cuts/bruises. Deputies threw him into a cement wall. They refused to give him his seizure medication, which resulted in a seizure and him hitting his head on the cement. . . . Please let me know what you can do. He fears they will kill him.”
The sheriff’s command staff immediately received this message from me: “I have been informed that deputies are again abusing Josh Waring, a pretrial inmate in a suspiciously weak attempted-murder case. Please look into this for me. Just so you know, Josh’s situation is a top priority for my attention. And I am already aware of multiple law-enforcement shenanigans violating his constitutional rights.”
Carrie Braun, OCSD’s public-information manager, responded, “I appreciate that you’ve reached out. Do you have information you could share regarding the alleged abuse? We take all allegations seriously and will investigate fully.”
“The gist of what I’ve been told is that jail deputies have been unnecessarily aggressive and embellishing situations that supposedly require force and punishment,” I replied. “I also know that Josh believes certain deputies have it out for him and that he fears for his life. Obviously, I haven’t been there to know exactly what is going on, but I hope that he isn’t harmed/tortured/abused in pretrial detention.”
On Aug. 23—after Braun says she relayed my concern to the jail command staff two days earlier—deputies left Waring unprotected.
“Last night, they let Josh out of his cell along with a 300-pound Mexican gang member,” his father wrote me. “The guy went after Josh right away. No one else was out of their cells, and no deputies were around. Josh is a very good fighter and dropped the guy, but [he] fears the next guy will have a blade or there will be more of them.”
Waring’s prognostication was dead-on. On Oct. 9, he was ambushed again by a more lethal threat. According to Peterson, deputies freed her son from his protective-custody cell and supposedly weren’t paying attention when another inmate emerged from beneath a stairwell. Unlike the first attacker in August, this one was armed with razor blades in each fist.
“Josh fought for his life for an estimated five minutes,” Peterson recounted. “Josh’s face was slashed from his left eye down to his jaw, requiring multiple stitches, and [it] will leave a very large scar. It’s a miracle his eye was spared. Josh was stabbed and sliced multiple times in the neck and chest and received no antibiotics as a preventative measure against infection. He is very lucky to be alive.”
She added, “[Josh] believes that the jail guards and deputies are facilitating these attacks.”
It took 20 staples and stitches to sew up Waring’s wounds.
“I was terrified,” he explained to the Weekly. “I thought I was going to die. Yet all I could really think about was being exonerated for the charges brought against me. After the attack, once I realized how badly I was injured, I worried about how the jury will perceive me when they see my face with the stitches. I am already an insecure person, but this has added to my anxiety.”
On Oct. 18, Garson hopes to convince a judge to either reduce Josh’s $1 million bail or issue a release on his own recognizance because the sheriff “can no longer guarantee his safety, either through deliberate indifference by deputies or intentional placement of [my client] in a place deputies know he is ‘green-lighted’ for murder.
But Braun disputes that stance. “The safety and security of inmates in our custody is our primary responsibility and a charge we take seriously,” she stated. “With an average of more than 5,500 inmates in the Orange County Jail on a daily basis, we are continually working to protect the inmates in our care.”
In September, in between the two recent attacks on Waring, and in response to a federal class-action lawsuit filed regarding jail-corruption allegations, Barnes issued his own statement, insisting that “claims of inhumane treatment at Orange County Jails are patently inaccurate.”
Facts are stubborn things, though. Consider Danny Pham: The cosmetology student, whom deputies felt disrespected them, was days away from completing an 180-day jail sentence in July 2017 for nonviolent car theft when he was relocated to a cell with a man accused of killing two homeless men and displaying obvious signs of mental instability. The 27-year-old Pham, who had also been homeless, left as a corpse about a week after the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California issued a 104-page report outlining inhumane and unsafe conditions in our jails.
In 2010, deputies placed an arrestee on a misdemeanor charge in a cell with Brian Lee James, a psychopathic member of Public Enemy Number One Death Squad, the Costa Mesa-born white-supremacist criminal street gang in allegiance to the Aryan Brotherhood. James had just been arrested on several attempted-murder counts and, given his already-accumulated status as a violent Three-Striker, knew he would never likely emerge from prison. He removed the black shoe laces from his white Converse sneakers and began strangling the man, whom deputies refused to identify. The attack ended minutes later, when the victim’s eyes rolled back in his head and his body fell limp. Deputies then entered the cell and labeled themselves heroes for saving the terrorized man’s life.
But there’s no case as bad as the 2006 one involving 34-year-old John Derek Chamberlain in custody awaiting trial on a minor pornography-related charge. The Rancho Santa Margarita software engineer was beaten to death by waves of inmates for as long as 40 minutes after they say two deputies on nearby guard duty encouraged the attack. Chamberlain was stripped, sexually assaulted, stomped, punched and mutilated. His 24 ribs had been broken 43 times, as a gruesome autopsy showed. After the killing, deputies erased video footage of the shift, doctored official logs and huddled to devise an identical accounting of events, though they later insisted they were guilty of no wrongdoing.
The question now is: Are OCSD deputies determined to add Waring to that list of shame, and if so, will Orange County’s district attorney, California’s attorney general, the FBI or federal prosecutors care?
CNN-featured investigative reporter 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; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.