An Orange County District Attorney’s investigation into a man’s suicide at La Habra city jail is being called into question following the perhaps inadvertent publishing on the Internet of security video from the scene.
Daniel Roberto Oppenheimer, a 49-year-old who had been picked up for alleged domestic violence, used the zipper of his jail-issued jumpsuit to hang himself in the police holding cell on Jan. 2, 2015.
The OCDA, which issues reports on in-custody deaths to determine if law enforcement is criminally culpable, concluded there was nothing La Habra police officers could have done to prevent Oppenheimer from killing himself. Click here to read the full report.
Oppenheimer’s daughter is suing the city and its police department for wrongful death. The city had been represented by the law firm Ferguson, Praet & Sherman, which specializes in defending those accused of police misconduct.
The Ferguson, Praet & Sherman attorney on the case used footage from surveillance cameras covering the inmate’s cell to corroborate the timeline developed by the OCDA that exonerated La Habra officers of wrongdoing.
While that video mostly lined up with the official timeline, the attorney did note on his computer that he saw someone in the grainy footage walking past Oppenheimer’s cell on two separate occasions, minutes apart, as the inmate was dying. That could indicate an officer or officers saw Oppenheimer killing himself but did nothing to stop him.
The shadowy figures are not addressed in the OCDA timeline.
The Ferguson, Praet & Sherman attorney marked his notes “work product,” a legal term ensuring they would not leave the law firm, a message further driven home in the folder that held the notes. It was marked “do not forward to new counsel.”
From Ferguson, Praet & Sherman’s standpoint, that should have been the end of it.
But then Chris Vickery discovered a huge cache of internal law case files that were made accessible on the web, probably by mistake. The lead researcher on the MacKeeper security team routinely finds data inadvertently made public—from terror watch lists to company customers’ personal data—informs the originator of the leak and then blogs about it.
That’s what Vickery does in his post “Lawful Conduct,” which is about the Ferguson, Praet & Sherman materials on the Oppenheimer suicide that the researcher found.
“There is good reason to be concerned when someone dies in jail,” Vickery begins his post. “One recent breach I discovered casts doubt on findings of the Orange County DA’s office regarding a recent in-custody death.”
After Vickery emailed Ferguson, Praet & Sherman to inform the firm that its Oppenheimer case files were available for public viewing, the data stream suddenly stopped. Vickery says he never received a reply from the firm.
The Weekly has asked the OCDA for comment and will update this post should it come. The OCDA did get back to the Weekly Monday with essentially the same comment that follows: Spokeswoman Roxi Fyad reportedly says the OCDA stands by its in-custody death findings and will have no more comment, according to a post today by Zack Whittaker of ZDNet, a 24/7 international technology news site.
Ferguson, Praet & Sherman offered no comment, and the new attorney on the case for La Habra says he knows nothing about any video.
Caleb Mason, the attorney for the Oppenheimer family, does know about the video. He told Whittaker he was barred from obtaining or reviewing any privileged files from opposing counsel, even if they were leaked or accidentally disclosed. Mason vowed to make the presiding judge aware of the potentially damaging data, however.