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Grand Jury’s ‘Myth’ Report On A California Jail Snitch Scandal Draws Criticism

LOS ANGELES — A grand jury in California that analyse an Orange County jailhouse informant program, which a Superior Court judge and a government court of appeals have agreed clearly prevails, issued an unsettling report last week claiming that it is a “myth” largely created by the protection in a mass murder instance and the media and that there is no widespread cheating by district attorney’s and sheriff’s officials, even though another ruling Friday in a murder occurrence again indicated it is true.

At the center of the scandal are allegations that sheriff’s deputies have for decades planted informants next to targeted inmates in the county’s incarcerates and have directed them to fish for incriminating proof to help secure sentences. While it’s legal for law enforcement authorities to use informants to help bolster examples, in many Orange County experiments, it’s alleged that the snitches questioned prisoners who were represented by lawyers, violating their right to counsel. Prosecutors are accused of presenting damning evidence gathered by the snitches in tribunal while withholding other evidence that could have been beneficial to the protection. That would violate a defendant’s right to due process.

While the Orange County grand jury conceded that there have been some breaches in a “small number” of cases, it’s largely due to” laxness in supervision” at the agencies, which, the grand jury announced, have moved to correct course.

The grand jury likewise found that ongoing hearings related to the misuse of informants inside county incarcerates, which are being conducted as part of criminal penalties period in the case provided for against mass executioner Scott Dekraai, are nothing more than a “witch hunt” that the grand jury intimated should be stopped.

Dekraai pleaded guilty to slaughtering eight people in a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011. He is still awaiting convicting while the courts wrangle over allegations of malfeasance in the use of a jail informant who was allegedly planted in a cell next to Dekraai. At bet is whether the court will impose a death sentence.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Orange County district attorney’s office have long denied that their officials have cheated to assure sentences. And the grand jury indicated that they should be believed.

But the grand jury’s findings wing in the face of years of case, a mountain of indication and multiple court rulings.

Just Friday, an appeals court unanimously substantiated a ruling that the district attorney’s office improperly withheld evidences on a jailhouse informant used in the 2005 double-murder trial of Henry Rodriguez, who was freed in May 2016 after investing 18 years in prison. His attorney told the Los Angeles Times that he was never contacted by the grand jury about Rodriguez’s case.

The grand jury’s findings have left many legal expert startled and deeply concerned that there must be an outside, independent probe of the allegations, beyond the investigation by the county’s grand jury.

” I was surprised and distressed by the grand jury report ,” Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of constitution at the University of California, Berkeley, told HuffPost.

Laura Fernandez, a senior Liman Fellow at Yale Law School who examines prosecutorial misconduct all over the commonwealth, used to say” this situation calls for a genuinely independent inquiry, one that requests real questions in the hopes of getting real answers .”

Here’s some of the reasons why the report left many feeling that an independent probe is desperately needed now more than ever before.

Gail Fisher via Getty Images
The jailhouse informant program in Orange County is believed to have roots that go back decades.

Grand jury says it’s just” rogue deputies” “whos working” informants improperly, despite court evidence.

While the grand jury is accepted that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department may be using jailhouse informants, as part of the report it advances a narrative that sheriff’s supervisors presented at recent Superior Court hearings linked to the prison snitch scandal. They testified that it was merely a small group of rogue deputies “whos” illegally working with informants that violated the interests of several defendants and that it was done behind the backs of their supervisors.

But that narrative deteriorated over the last two weeks of testimony as a deputy and a foreman was pointed out that the department’s upper handling were aware of deputies’ acts with jail snitches and that deputies received supervisor acceptance to do that work. There’s also a stack of internal memoes that have been produced in tribunal that detail the clear to better understand widespread apply of jailhouse informants all the way up the chain of command at the sheriff’s office for more than a decade.

One internal memo, dated March 2007 and sent from a sheriff’s sergeant on up to a chieftain, celebrates the “intelligence gathering” skills of the Special Handling unit at one county jail. It states that the jail unit” possesses an excellent expertise in the farming and management of informants” — expertise” recognized by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office as well as several enforcement agencies throughout Southern California .”

A 2009 internal OCSD memoranda sent to command staff entreaties permission from an deputy sheriff to place an informant next to an inmate charged with an offence murder so the conversation can be recorded. The helper sheriff granted leave the same day it was requested.

Orange County Courts

A 2008 memoranda from deputies to members of the department’s command staff indicates that nearly a decade ago the OCSD acknowledged it had previously cultivated” hundreds of confidential informants .”

Another internal memoranda from 2007 details a large informant presence in the incarcerates, telling there used to be” in excess of 40[ informants] throughout the facility” at the time.

There’s also an internal memoranda formerly posted on a wall up the role of the Special Handling unit, which dealt with incarcerate informants. The memoranda listed deputies’ duties, including” Cultivate/ oversee Confidential Informants .”

Orange County Superior Court

Before their report was wrote, grand jurors heard the testimony and saw the key documents being discussed in the courtroom. Grand jurors also had access to courtroom summaries on the internal OCSD memos and other evidence. But the report doesn’t address that witnes or evidence.

The sheriff’s department, responding to a request for statement, guided HuffPost to its statement last week on the release of the grand jury report that announces it” confirms many past statements made by Sheriff Sandra Hutchens regarding the use of jailhouse informants and shows a departmentally sanctioned program does not subsist .”

Wally Skalij/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ past refusals of a jailhouse informant program were confirmed by the grand jury report, the sheriff’s department said last week.

Report doesn’t address the allegations that the D.A.’s office failed to turn over internal informant records.

The Orange County district attorney’s office maintains a database of snitch records called the Orange County Informant Index, a determine of evidences on jailhouse informants maintained by the prosecutors’ agency stretching back decades. But Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders — Dekraai’s defense attorney, who, in a series of bombshell motions, has unearthed evidence of a long-concealed snitch program operating inside district jails — highlights the fact that the D.A.’s office has repeatedly failed to turn over those records in various the circumstances and has striven with rendering these records for at the least two decades.

Sanders secured a 1999 letter sent to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas from the California attorney general’s office in which David Druliner, who headed the state attorney general’s criminal separation, describes his serious concern about the unwillingness of prosecutors — including the heads of state of Rackauckas’ homicide unit — to turn over informant evidence favorable to a male on fatality row. Druliner threatened to turn the evidence presented over himself, which ultimately forced the district attorney’s office to comply.

The grand jury report does address the existence of an informant database and concedes that some lawyers have used” flawed legal reasoning” when choosing not to disclose informant datum from it, but the report gives little sense of the scope of the problem, it does not relating to the note nor what it intimates about Rackauckas’ apparent ambivalence to determining whether other instances were affected.

Sanders told HuffPost that he sat down with the grand jury’s informant committee and its consultant, former U.S. Attorney Andrea Ordin, and raised the issue of the Rackauckas-Druliner exchange but that they seemed disinterested.

” Omitting from research reports any mention of the letter and the cases in which index entryways were obscured over the past three decades corroborates that the grand jury was simply never going to call it straight when it came to the D.A.’s office ,” Sanders said.

Ordin did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.

The D.A.’s office wrongdoing detected by Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals in the Dekraai penalty phase, which led to the OCDA office being recused from the suit, was confirmed last November by the state’s 4th District Court of Appeal, but that governing is addressed in the report only as a footnote.

The D.A.’s office was also found to be attempting to steer assassination examples away from Goethals, a tactic called ” blanket papering .” In 55 of 58 occurrences over two years, county prosecutors apparently tried to avoid Goethals. Superior Court Judge Richard King said the tactic had” substantially interrupted the orderly administration of criminal justice in the district .”

” Remember here the Court of Appeal described the behavior of the OC district attorney as heinous ,” Chemerinsky replied.” The D.A.’s office mistreated its influence by’ papering’ Judge Goethals in reprisal in 55 of 58 cases over a two-year date. The D.A.’s own committee made recommendations that have been rejected. None of this is reflected in the grand jury report .”

Rackauckas has long was held that no one in his office intentionally behaved inappropriately in relation to the jailhouse informant program and that no prosecutors have illegally withhold evidence.

The district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in response to the grand jury findings, it said last week that the report” demonstrates the steadfast statu” of the district attorney’s office and that the grand jury” debunked the media’ witch hunt’ for bureau dishonesty .”

Mike Blake/ Reuters
Decisions against the Orange County district attorney’s bureau were no longer addressed or were merely footnoted in the grand jury report.

Would an illegally operated informant program have “job descriptions” and” calendaring of occurrences “? Grand jury thinks it must.

The grand jury strongly condemned the claims of what it called a” structured jailhouse informant program” operating in the Orange County jails and argued that allegations that the district attorney’s office and sheriff’s department conspired to violate inmates’ rights through the use of such a program are “unfounded.”

” That narrative does not stand up to factual validation ,” research reports reads. The grand jury replies it found no evidence of a “strategic plan” or “schedule” for prison canaries , no” formal education ,”” dedicated budget ,”” codified job descriptions” or” calendaring of occurrences” for a jailhouse informant program.

Legal experts were puzzled by this insistence that a darknes program in county incarcerates wouldn’t exist without having a formal organization.

” Noting the absence of’ definitive’ evidence of a’ structured’ jailhouse informant program, the grand jury simply dismissed outright the possibility of something more covert and loosely organized than what it allegedly set out to find ,” Fernandez, the Yale fellow, told HuffPost. The grand jury, Fernandez argued, never stopped to consider” whether evidence of’ strategic plans ,” dedicated budgets’ and’ calendared occurrences’ was something one might actually hope to find in the context of an( illegal) informant program .”

Moreover, the grand jury does not explain why it has focused on determining whether a formally structured informant program existed instead of investigating case by example how fair tests may have been affected by jail informant indication.

For instance, courtroom evidences indicate that one section of the incarcerate, called L-2 0, which was officially designated a mental health ward but currently being come to be understood as an” snitch cistern ,” appears to have been used for years to obtain evidence in violation of defendants’ rights. The employ of informant cisterns is not examined in the grand jury report.

” They omitted everything that would have decimated the agreed conclusions ,” Sanders told HuffPost.” For instance, before the’ rogue’ deputies did their work, superintendents boasted about the cultivation of hundreds of incarcerate snitches done by different deputies. Would those deputies qualify as’ rascal ,’ too, even as their heads gloated about the informant run they orchestrated? These working groups … testified not the slightest sign they were concerned about all relevant considerations stopped from indigent defendants .”

Grand jury may have overstepped its authority in suggesting Dekraai hearings should end.

The grand jury’s report implies that Judge Goethals should cease the ongoing evidentiary hearings in the Dekraai case.

” Any further investigation of potential widespread, systemic institutional wrongdoing surrounding discovery or informant issues such as Orange County “wouldve been” far more appropriately addressed by these agencies and not by the trial court for the largest acknowledged mass murderer in Orange County history ,” research reports reads.

While a grand jury has wide-reaching authority granted by statute to analyse matters of local, metropolitan or county regard, it does not have the authority to investigate matters of state regard. Superior court are considered government courts.

So, questioning an ongoing hearing conducted by a Superior Court judge appears to fall outside its mission.

The grand jury report must be authorized by the Superior Court, but the court does have the right to refuse the filing if the report” outstrips established legal limits ,” according to state statute. The tribunals are not bound to act upon the grand jury report other than to be informed by it.

The public datum policeman for the Orange County Superior court system, under which the grand jury autumns, told HuffPost in a statement that the Superior Court signed off on the grand jury report before it was published and posted but that the presiding magistrate can repudiate each of these reports if it outstrips the grand jury’s authority. When would like to know whether the court belief the grand jury are likely to have exceeded its authority, the role said it could not provide insight” into the judicial decision-making process .”

Irfan Khan/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
The agency of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has been recused from the Seal Beach mass murder case.

Report’s tone engenders skepticism.

The tone of the report, which is dismissive of the years-long tries by multiple lawyers and judges in the county, has furthermore raised questions about its fairness, particularly with knowledge coming to ignite that the grand jurors met with dozens of prosecutors but few defense attorneys.

The jail informant program is a “myth,” the grand jury said. Current investigations of the sheriff’s department and prosecutors are a “witch hunt,” it mentioned. And even when the grand jury argued that merely a few deputies might have illegally applied prison informants, the deputies were presented as having somewhat noble intensions, that they had gotten” carried away with efforts to be crime-fighters .”

” Once I insured them describe police investigations as a’ witch hunt ,’ I was very skeptical of such reports ,” Chemerinsky said.

Fernandez said that the grand jury opting to use such incendiary language was perturbing because it flies in the face of” opposite, carefully reasoned findings by the two courtrooms who have considered the question the most closely .”

” That expression, like the report’s broader findings, has left everyone familiar with the situation scratching their psyches — including, unfortunately, some of the victims ,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez referred to the reaction of Paul Wilson, whose wife, Christy, was one of the eight people killed by Dekraai.” A myth? What a slap in the face to each of these families ,” Wilson said to the court.” We have had to sustain through this, and they call it a story .”

The Orange County accusations have motivated the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation.

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