Afraid of being charged with criminal offenses, two Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) deputies refused to answers questions under oath Thursday about their roles in the ongoing jailhouse informant scandal.
Special Handling Unit deputies Ben Garcia and William Grover, who committed perjury in 2014 and 2015 People v. Scott Dekraai proceedings, each took the witness stand only to quickly invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens claims the veteran officers were unaware they were required to testify honestly during prior court appearances for the death penalty case marred by astonishing degrees of government cheating.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas wasn’t bothered by the corruption either; he used it to secretly win convictions.
The one criminal justice system official unwilling to play dumb is Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Geothals, who blasted the dishonesty years ago and has declared his amazement that offending deputies escaped meaningful punishment for more than 30 months.
With the U.S. Department of Justice in the early stages of an investigation into OCSD and the DA’s office, Hutchens finally awoke from her ethical slumber to recently place at least Grover on paid administrative leave.
Goethals hopes the current special evidentiary hearing in Dekraai will uncover why the sheriff and her deputes spent the last four years defying his lawfully issued orders to surrender agency records to Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, Dekraai’s attorney.
(Spoiler alert answer: The hidden and destroyed records offer evidence of illegal OCSD activities in the jails.)
The refusal of Garcia and Grover to cooperate with Goethals wasn’t a surprise.
But a new troubling angle emerged during the May 25 proceeding. In its own probe of OCSD, the California Attorney General’s office, which assumed prosecution duties after the judge recused Rackauckas in March 2015, appears to have made a behind-the-scenes decision to shield upper agency management from accountability in the scandal and is instead targeting low-level staffers.
Two facts underscore that potential development that must delight Hutchens and her cronies.
First, during a formal March 30 interview of OSCD officials, AG investigators either deactivated or never turned on a recording device at the request of Assistant Sheriff Adam Powell, the officer who is Hutchens’ frontman assigned to control the mess.
Plus, instead of employing basic investigatory techniques that involve individualized interrogations of suspects, the AG’s office conducted a group interview of three staffers with Powell and commanders William Baker and Jon Briggs present to digest questions and answers.
In a legitimate, independent investigation potential targets are never permitted to hear questioning of other witnesses.
Testimony resumes on May 31.
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.