More evidence emerged this week that an Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) deputy tied to the ongoing jailhouse-informant scandal committed perjury in an effort to cover up law-enforcement corruption while prosecutors pretended not to notice.
During special evidentiary hearings in People v. Scott Dekraai, a death-penalty case, veteran OCSD deputy Seth Tunstall repeatedly gave sworn testimony that his agency didn’t operate a jailhouse-informant program, he didn’t work with snitches on state cases and was unaware of any records revealing reasons informants were moved close to high-profile government targets.
The dishonest testimony aimed to thwart Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders’ investigation into the use of jailhouse informants to violate a constitutional ban against government officials or their agents, such as snitches, from questioning pretrial defendants who’d been charged with a crime and had legal representation.
But in a Sept. 7 court filing, Sanders informed Superior Judge Thomas M. Goethals that Tunstall’s adamant denials of grooming informants didn’t match his testimony in an unrelated case stemming from the 2006 gruesome, jailhouse murder of inmate John Derek Chamberlain.
During the 2011 trial against multiple defendants accused of killing Chamberlain, prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh asked Tunstall if he used jail informants.
“Yes,” the deputy testified, according to a transcript.
That new evidence bolsters Sanders’ prior impeachment of Tunstall. In 2015, the public defender confronted the deputy by showing him a search warrant he’d written. In that affidavit, filed under oath, Tunstall listed his official duties as including cultivating, interviewing and supervising—all his words—”numerous confidential informants.”
Tunstall, who has a Ph.D as well as several other college degrees, responded with one of the most inadvertently hilarious explanations ever uttered in an OC courthouse: He said he guessed he’d mistakenly used three wrong words. Goethals was not amused. In March 2015, he publicly declared Tunstall and fellow deputy Ben Garcia, who also supervised informants, as perjurers.
But the new transcript not only undermines Tunstall, but it also helps to expose a lie perpetrated by officials inside the Orange County district attorney’s office (OCDA) that they were unaware of the deputies’ lies.
Baytieh is one of OCDA’s senior officials and has been managing public spin about the snitch scandal. He must have known Tunstall committed perjury in Dekraai, given the contradictory 2011 testimony. But if he was somehow clueless, Senior Deputy DA Keith Bogardus participated in both the Dekraai and Chamberlain-related hearings. He, too, should have objected when the deputy lied. Instead, Bogardus kept his mouth shut.
Though the scandal is approaching its third year, OCDA officials—including Dan Wagner, who heads the homicide unit—claim it wasn’t until May that they discovered the existence of an OCSD jailhouse-informant program, one that has been in use for at least three decades, and posed “shocked” that key records had been hidden from judges, juries and defense lawyers.
Neither District Attorney Tony Rackauckas nor Kamala Harris, California’s Attorney General, have summoned the courage to criminally charge Tunstall and Garcia with perjury.
Goethals is in the process of determining what newly produced OCSD records Sanders can obtain over the strenuous objections of prosecutors and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.
A California Court of Appeal in Santa Ana will eventually decide if it will validate Goethals’ historic, 2015 recusal of OCDA in Dekraai after opining he couldn’t trust prosecutors to enforce basic ethics, in part, because of their silence about dirty OCSD tactics.
The appellate court today announced an Oct. 17 date for what should be heated oral arguments.
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.