from the just-another-humdrum-day-in-law-enforcement dept
Cops lie. Cops lie so often it’s hardly even news at this point. The only people left to be shocked by these revelations are the increasingly small segment of the population who’ve actually considered, at some point in their lives, the purchase of a fainting couch.
Cops lie because cops can almost always get away with it. And it’s not just cops. It’s the entire punishment side of the American justice system. Lies are often unchallenged. When they are, courts often refer to the lies as “contradictory” or “misleading” statements. On rare occasions, courts will go so far as to refer to these lying government employees as “not credible.”
But they’re liars all the same. And while cops have the most opportunities to lie, prosecutors do it too. And, at least in this case [PDF], it appears a federal court actually wants to hold a prosecutor responsible for his lies.
A prisoner in the middle of civil rights lawsuit against a California women’s prison filed a motion stating that her cell had been recently searched and court documents belonging to her were removed by prison personnel. A lawyer (Derrek Lee) working for the California Office of the Attorney General met with the prison warden and filed a statement on the warden’s behalf with the court.
That sworn statement said:
I am employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) as the Warden for the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona, California.
I have reviewed the Court’s Order (ECF No. 62), inquiring as to the merits of Caruso’s (W-25086) claim that documents connected to her lawsuit have been removed from her possession. Plaintiff specifically contends that documents were removed from per possession, on or about, January 31, 2018. In line with the Court, both myself and staff at CIW take allegations of this nature very seriously.
At the direction of the Court, I have looked into Plaintiff’s allegations, and have reviewed unit logs and cell-search logs dating back to January 1, 2018, to determine if Plaintiff’s allegations have merit. Whenever a cell-search is performed, staff are required to fill out these documents explaining the reason for the search and any items confiscated. With respect to inmate Caruso, there is no record of a cell search, nor is there a record of any documents, legal or otherwise, that were confiscated from her cell.
But that’s not what actually happened. And the AG’s lawyer knew this, because he helped with the search he was now pretending didn’t happen. The plaintiff was taken from her cell to go to the prison’s “Litigation Coordinator.” While she was there, she was told the AG’s office wished to speak to her about a document it had accidentally released to her. While she was in the Litigation Coordinator’s office, her cell was searched and documents were taken. Following this incident, Derrek Lee wrote up a statement for Warden Hill to sign and submit to the court.
The AG’s lawyer doubled down on his lies following this revelation.
On April 29, 2022, Defendants filed a supplemental brief that addressed these allegations. According to the supplemental brief, a search of Plaintiff’s cell occurred and a document that Defendants produced in discovery was confiscated and destroyed. However, Defendants allege that the search occurred on November 29, 2017, not in or around February of 2018, and that the document was confiscated because it was a confidential personnel record that should not have been produced to Plaintiff. Additionally, Defendants allege that it was Deputy Attorney General Mohmoud, not Derrek Lee, who initiated the search.
This new set of lies was also disproven.
On May 6, 2022, Plaintiff submitted a copy of an email dated November 29, 2017, to Bystrom in which Derrek Lee asked [prison litigation coordinator] Bystrom to set up a call with Plaintiff on that day. Derrek Lee also asked for an ISU member to be present (or on the line).
On May 10, 2022, Defendants provided an email from Deputy Attorney General Mohmoud to Lt. Spinney dated November 29, 2017, in which she attached a copy of the personnel record she wanted confiscated and stated she would appreciate an update on whether Lt. Spinney was able to locate it. Derrek Lee was cced on the email.
Having run out of lies, Derrek Lee (who no longer works for the state AG’s office) is being forced to confront the truth. The court is definitely displeased to have been jerked around for months by the government lawyer.
The parties now appear to agree that a search of Plaintiff’s cell occurred on November 29, 2017, and that a document was taken from Plaintiff’s cell. Additionally, lawyers with the Office of the Attorney General, including Derrek Lee, were aware of and participated in the search. Despite this, neither the Warden nor Derrek Lee informed the Court of the search when responding to the Court’s order inquiring about documents that were allegedly taken from Plaintiff during the course of this suit.
The lawyers representing the prison defendants (along with Derrek Lee) have been given 21 days to satisfactorily explain to the court why they shouldn’t be hit with sanctions for deliberately misleading the court. Given the events detailed here, it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to respond with anything that will lower the court’s ire to a low boil and allow them to continue fighting these prisoners’ allegations without the burden of sanctions.
Unfortunately, sanctions in cases like these are limited to a small list of remedies, but the court serves a large duty here simply by calling out both the misconduct and the government lawyer behind it, which will act as its own form of deterrent. And it’s just another data point showing the government is more than willing to cheat in order to secure wins.