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.

Filed Under: california, evidence, mishandling evidence, orange county, orange county sheriff's department


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  • identicon
    Annonymouse, 3 Dec 2019 @ 4:19am

    The proof is in the putting.
    In this case the putting of evidence in custody.

    In any other case where people do not follow proceedures that affect people's lives they pay the price. The buck stops here but not with this sherriff where he just passes it on as not his problem.
    So will the DA and moreso the judge have the cojones to incarcerate the guy in charge as well as the officers under his command ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2019 @ 4:57am

    It sounds like all of these people need to be on the Brady List

    Having proof of false sworn testimony or statements should put every single person in that department on the Brady List right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Nathan F (profile), 3 Dec 2019 @ 5:40am

      Re: It sounds like all of these people need to be on the Brady L

      Kind of hard for many of them to testify when they have been fired.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 3 Dec 2019 @ 10:38am

      Re: It sounds like all of these people need to be on the Brady L

      Having proof of false sworn testimony or statements should put every single person in that department on the Brady List right?

      Wrong.

      It would put the people who provided false testimony on the Brady list. Not every person employed in the department.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2019 @ 5:08am

    Uh, sheriff? We're getting a 404 - evidence not found error on that Camero we impounded last week. Do you know anything about it?

    Oh, yeah. That's one sweet ride. Uh, oh, sorry, yeah. We had to park it outside the impound lot for fear of damage. Let me, um, just go get it now....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2019 @ 7:33am

    This couldn't be the same Orange County DA's office from this report:

    https://www.ocregister.com/2019/07/17/federal-investigators-question-orange-county-prosecuto rs-on-jailhouse-snitches/

    Could there be two Orange Counties in California?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Christenson, 3 Dec 2019 @ 8:43am

    Annie Dookhan...

    Remember all the trouble in Massachusetts when the state crime lab was found rotten to the core and a very large number of convictions were reversed??

    I think the prosecutor has this situation in mind, whatever may be in his heart.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bobob, 3 Dec 2019 @ 10:17am

    Wow. If the cops have to book the evidence they collect, where will they get a supply of guns and drugs to plant on people in a pretextural stop?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 3 Dec 2019 @ 10:36am

    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.

    Umm... no.

    If the prosecutor's office wasn't aware of the mishandling of evidence-- as seems to be the case here-- then their sworn declarations are NOT lies. A lie is an intentional falsehood. There's nothing intentional here. They thought they were telling the truth. The fact that they were mistaken through no fault of their own does not mean they were lying.

    Not that Cushing really cares about such niceties as he writes these articles.

    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.

    And yet you're perfectly cool with accusing them of lying when they were doing nothing of the kind.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anonymouse, 3 Dec 2019 @ 11:25am

    Corrupt

    This is the same agency that thought it appropriate to use a jailhouse snitch so egregiously that if the person wasn't a mass-murderer with multiple eyewittnesses and cameras that caught his crimes he would have been released from prison without prosecution. They are so corrupt they fucked up that bad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 3 Dec 2019 @ 11:39am

    Love math.

    Lets think about something here..

    City funds and how many of WHAT need to be hired to protect the City.
    As the City grows, they build homes and tax more people.. More taxes and more areas mean more persons to help protect an area..
    Sound familiar?? Sim City works about the same.

    You would think that the extra monies would end up going to those extra person for training and what ever was needed as before..
    So what makes it More expensive..It cant be economics of Whatever..as its mostly a constant Value.. I dont think there are Many Wages that go up compared to the Value in the past..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 3 Dec 2019 @ 1:10pm

    So where's the police union statement about how this is no big deal and these cops are being unfairly targeted?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 3 Dec 2019 @ 9:41pm

    Where did all of the evidence go?

    Officer..."We had to sniff, sniff, test the evidence. sniff
    "I needed my buddy to confirm that it was cocaine. sniff
    "We needed, sniff, sniff a few weekends to determine that it really was cocaine. sniff
    "Yep, submit what's left into sniff evidence. I know there isn't much left, bet trust me, it's cocaine." sniff

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Eldakka (profile), 4 Dec 2019 @ 11:53pm

    Defense counsel and defendants in affected cases will be notified of the newly-discovered [EVIDENCE NOT FOUND] errors by the DA's office,

    Or, more likely it should be: [This page left intentionally blank]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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