California Sheriff's Dept. Manages To Piss Off Local Prosecutor By Consistently Mishandling Evidence
from the stop-making-me-look-bad dept
Hey, it’s only people’s freedom on the line. Why try harder?
Four Orange County sheriff’s deputies have been fired after a two-year audit by the Sheriff’s Department found systemic abuses in the handling of evidence, the Southern California News Group has learned.
The explosive audit found that nearly one-third of the evidence collected from February 2016 to February 2018 was booked beyond the agency’s one-day policy. Some bookings were tardy by more than a month, creating questions about chain of custody. One official from the Public Defender’s Office said thousands of criminal cases could be affected.
As the article notes, four deputies have been fired. Another seven have been “disciplined.” Seventeen criminal investigations have been opened targeting deputies. So far, no criminal charges have been filed. If this is the full extent of the fallout from this spectacular display of who-gives-a-fuck, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department is likely to continue shirking its evidentiary responsibilities for years to come.
If you’re wondering how things got so bad in first place, the audit report has a very direct answer:
“no system of accountability”
Exactly. And, after a few firings, the Sheriff is ready to declare this a victory for not just the public, but for his department as well.
“The audit achieved its intended goal and has made our agency better,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, who served as undersheriff during the span of the audit’s focus, said in the Monday statement. Barnes said the audit showed his department has “no patience for substandard performance or criminal behavior.”
Well, the department seems to have some patience for “substandard performance.” It took deputies an average of 3.4 days to book evidence when policy mandated 24 hours max. A thirty percent failure rate is not evidence of internal accountability. More than a quarter of the OCSD’s deputies have held onto evidence for more than a month, further showing that high standards mean nothing if you don’t enforce them.
This calls into question the integrity of evidence being used in criminal prosecutions. Evidence that isn’t booked as quickly as possible runs the risk of being lost, altered, or attached to the wrong case. Prosecutions are relying on evidence that’s been mishandled and misused. Given the historical lack of accountability at the sheriff’s office, deputies may have felt comfortable selectively processing items to keep exculpatory evidence off the books.
The Orange County District Attorney isn’t happy. Todd Spitzer’s office sent a letter to the Sheriff’s Department demanding more info and more answers after being blindsided with the fact that deputies’ failure to properly book evidence turned his office’s sworn declarations of evidence control/possession into lies. This audit was damaging enough. The follow-up audit is somehow even worse, as Spitzer’s letter points out.
On Monday, November 18, 2019, at the briefing held at your headquarters, I first became aware that your office conducted a wide-scale internal audit of 98,676 Departmental Records (DRs) or sheriff reports to review evidence collection and booking by OCSD deputies over a two year period. At the briefing, I also learned Mary Izadi, Constitutional Policing Advisor, wrote a report regarding the audits findings. My office requested a copy of her report which was provided the same day. Ms. Izadi’s report dated February 2019 not only discussed the “Initial Audit’s” process and findings for the 98,676 reports, but also detailed the process and findings of a “Secondary Audit” of 450 cases. This second audit found that in 47% of the 121 reports where deputies stated they had collected and booked evidence, there was no evidence booked. This means in 57 of the reports reviewed, a deputy failed to book a piece of evidence that the deputy stated he or she collected.
Now that the Sheriff’s Department has screwed things up for the DA, the DA wants the Sheriff to un-screw things ASAP. The DA is asking for information from all cases (not just the 57 in the audit) where deputies failed to book evidence after collecting it. DA Spitzer appears to believe this is a very frequent occurrence.
I understand it may take considerable time to compile this information. Therefore, in the event the universe of cases meeting this description is voluminous, I would appreciate you advising on a methodology on how to deliver this information in segments rather than waiting for your entire review to be completed.
Defense counsel and defendants in affected cases will be notified of the newly-discovered [EVIDENCE NOT FOUND] errors by the DA’s office, which is also handling the criminal investigations stemming from this audit. The letter may applaud the Sheriff’s decision to perform this internal audit, but the rest of the letter makes it clear the DA isn’t happy the Sheriff’s Department’s lousy evidence handling has now become his problem.
The good news is the DA’s response. This could have been shrugged off or put off for weeks by the DA’s own investigation of the OCSD’s evidence-handling processes. Instead, DA Spitzer has taken charge and ensured the Sheriff’s partially self-congratulatory post-audit statement will not be the last word on the subject.