OCDA Cuts Deal to Thwart Public Hearing into Jail Phone Surveillance Scandal

Days after OC Weekly’s August revelation that ethical issues tied to jailhouse telephone surveillance by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) for two years had stalled the severe pending punishment of a defendant, prosecutors quietly gave a sweetheart deal rather than surrender subpoenaed records and undergo public hearings into potential law enforcement perjury.

As a result of the government’s tactical decision, 25-year-old Hugo Jovanny Jimenez grabbed a term of 15 years rather than the life-in-prison sentence he faced.

A Sept. 2016 jury convicted Jimenez of committing 22 felonies and enhancements stemming from the prior year’s parking lot fist fight, assaults and attempted murder at Stanton’s Lucky John’s bar located 10 minutes from Disneyland.

The defendant will likely spend less than 12 years in prison after officials calculate credits for time already served (1,126 days) plus a good conduct bonus (168 days).

There’s no mystery why Tony Rackauckas’ Orange County district attorney’s office (OCDA) became less enthusiastic about pursuing Jimenez: Public Defender Adam Vining discovered the suspicious role the Special Handling Unit of the OCSD played in the conviction.

Those familiar with the jailhouse snitch scandal know Special Handling Unit deputies operated unconstitutional scams to help OCDA win cases, hid or destroyed exculpatory evidence, disobeyed court orders, feigned memory loss of easily memorable events and repeatedly committed perjury to cover up their misdeeds.

In efforts to thwart public disclosure of corruption in the snitch scandal, Rackauckas’ office dropped murder and attempted murder cases rather than release embarrassing records.

(Rackauckas—the self-styled 75-year-old law and order politician who is seeking a sixth term at November’s election—refused to prosecute the lying deputies or gracefully accept a 2016 rebuke of his conduct issued by the California Court of Appeal.)

Jimenez is the latest beneficiary of a local criminal justice system continually trying to outrun its corruption.

Vining discovered that veteran Special Handling Unit deputy Seth Tunstall, identified by a superior court judge as a blatant perjurer in 2014 and 2015, had worked as a courtroom bailiff during Jimenez’s trial.

After Tunstall’s appearance, prosecutors convinced Judge Michael A. Leversen to re-open their case in chief so that Brendan Pefley of the Special Handling Unit could testify he’d miraculously discovered bombshell evidence of jail phone recordings with Jimenez attempting to create an alibi at the time of the shooting.

Leversen hadn’t been particularly interested in Vining’s suspicions until news broke in August that OCSD’s jailhouse recording system had illegally captured more than 1,000 calls between inmates and their lawyers.

Worse, even though deputies knew many of the phone numbers called belonged to the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, they nonetheless listened to protected conversations where defense strategies were undoubtedly discussed. Leversen noted his “concern” about the phone surveillance issue in Jimenez and said he was open to the idea of conducting an evidentiary hearing.

OCDA’s sudden sweetheart deal precludes that outcome while county supervisors this week ordered bureaucrats to provide options pertaining to the jail phone system contract after Global Tel*Link Corporation officials conceded they’d recorded attorney-client calls not just in Orange County but also in two Florida jurisdictions.

Deputies have tried to keep secret the impressive technical capabilities of Global Tel’s system, which allows them to monitor live calls as well as to conduct intense searches penetrating slang, foreign languages, colloquialisms and jargon used in recorded conversations.

On Sept. 7, the judge ordered Jimenez transferred to the California Department of Corrections’ reception center “forthwith,” but OCSD officials have kept him in their custody.

Rackauckas is running against Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who has made the incumbent’s corruption and incompetence the centerpiece of his campaign.

In 2017, lousy ethical practices inside OCDA and OCSD prompted a superior court judge to historically remove the death penalty as a sentencing option in the county’s worse mass killing case, People v. Scott Dekraai.

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