Orange County DA's Office Shrugs Off Sheriff's Deputies Falsifying Evidence Reports [UPDATED]

from the boldly-adding-zero-accountability-to-zero-accountability dept

UPDATE: The Orange County DA's office has issued this correction:

There is misinformation in this story. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer has reopened the criminal investigations into the 17 deputies referenced in this post.

This post says that there was a decision to not charge those deputies. That is not accurate as the review is ongoing.

This is the reporting from The Appeal, which has apparently not received the same statement from Spitzer's office:

Between 2017, before the first audit began, and October 2018, the sheriff’s department referred 15 deputies to the district attorney’s office for criminal investigation as a result of filing false reports, according to the DA’s response to Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda’s public information request. But by the end of January 2019, the DA’s office had decided not to prosecute any of the deputies, according to a motion filed last month by Scott Sanders, an assistant public defender. Two additional deputies were later submitted and also rejected for prosecution, several months later.

Original post follows:

If this were a private business, it would have collapsed under the combined weight of its unhappy customers and its own incompetence. But it isn't. We realize you don't have a choice in your law enforcement provider and all that.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department is a mess. It has been a mess for years. Some of its corruption was exposed five years ago, when an investigation by lawyers in a murder trial uncovered multiple occasions where the department had buried exculpatory information or refused to hand it over to defendants. This resulted in Orange County DA's office (including all of its 250 prosecutors) being kicked off the high-profile murder trial. The Sheriff's involvement was the strategic housing of jailhouse informants to illegally coax information out of defendants awaiting trial.

The problems uncovered here were made worse when the Sheriff's Department shredded documents ahead of a DOJ investigation and then-Sheriff Sandra Hutchens claimed the omissions made by deputies during testimony were honest mistakes -- the unfortunate result of the officers supposedly not knowing what they could and could not discuss about the Department's informant database in open court.

The same office "inadvertently" collected thousands of recordings containing privileged conversations between defendants and their lawyers. The department claimed a "software glitch" resulted in this windfall of rights violations.

Evidence-handling continues to be a problem for this department. Last year, it managed to anger one of its best friends -- the Orange County DA's office -- by constantly booking in evidence in an untimely manner. The root cause? Very succinctly, the DA's office said the Sheriff's evidence-handling protocols had "no system of accountability."

The audit of the department's extremely faulty booking process continues. And, as Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg reports for The Appeal, it's uncovering even more lax handling of criminal evidence.

Deputies booked evidence days, and sometimes weeks, after it was purportedly collected, according to an internal audit, which examined thousands of police reports filed between 2016 and 2018. Thirty percent of evidence was “booked out of policy,” according to a slide presentation describing the first audit’s findings. A second audit found that deputies had claimed to have collected evidence that was never booked.

Some deputies were far worse than others. One deputy in particular appeared to have set the curve the rest of the department was graded on.

In one investigation, the department found that Sheriff's Deputy Bryce Simpson falsely claimed he booked evidence in 74 cases, according to a motion Sanders filed last month. In 56 of those cases, no evidence was booked at all, and in 18 only some of the evidence he reported was booked.

Another young go-getter, Deputy Joseph Atkinson, claimed evidence had been booked in 26 cases where no evidence could be located. This included seven cases where Atkinson claimed to have booked drugs, leading one to wonder what actually happened to those drugs.

And yet, as angry as the DA's office was with the Sheriff's Department late last year, nothing has been done to introduce any more accountability into a system that clearly has none. The department referred 17 deputies to the DA's office for criminal investigation. The DA's office has decided none of these public servants should be punished for abusing the public's trust.

This isn't DA Todd Spitzer's fault. He defeated the former DA by running as a reformer. And while he has expressed his vast displeasure with the department's booking procedures, his office still decided none of the first 17 deputies referred to him for falsifying records should be criminally charged. That's not much of a reform and it's not going to change the culture that led to this situation. It's going to cost the DA a lot of criminal cases. Maybe once his office bleeds enough, he'll finally start taking this seriously.

Filed Under: corruption, evidence reports, orange county, orange county sheriff's department


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    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2020 @ 6:15am

    Re:

    Interneting is hard.


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