Jailhouse Snitch Scandal Brings Another Year of Headlines

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It’s the scandal that just keeps on giving.

Next month will mark the fourth anniversary of a request by an obscure Superior Court judge that the Orange County district attorney’s office turn over a large cache of records to the public defender representing Scott Evans Dekraai, the man who committed the county’s largest-ever mass murder.

That request was the beginning of an unraveling that would lead to the disclosure of a vast jailhouse informants network run by DA prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies that systematically violated the constitutional rights of criminal defendants.

To date, disclosures of the rights violations have led to the convictions of at least six defendants charged with murder and other serious crimes being overturned.

Meanwhile, the obscure judge, Thomas M. Goethals, and the public defender, Scott Sanders, have become heroes in the criminal justice reform movement. Sanders for his tireless efforts to uncover the informant records; and Goethals for standing firm as District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens fought the disclosures at every turn.

The fallout continues. In 2015, State Attorney General Kamala Harris launched an investigation, which is still ongoing, into allegations that DA prosecutors perjured themselves when testifying about the informants network.

In November, the 4th District Court of Appeals upheld a 2015 decision by Goethals’ to bar the DA’s office from prosecuting the penalty phase of Dekraai’s trial. And two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the district attorney’s office and sheriff’s department are targets of a civil rights investigation.

Here is a rundown of our stories on the scandal from 2016:

A ‘Failure of Leadership’ in DA’s Office, Panel Finds

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas (right) at a news conference. Seated next to him is Senior Assistant District Attorney Michael Lubinski.

Kaitlin E. Washburn for Voice of OC

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas (right) at a news conference. Seated next to him is Senior Assistant District Attorney Michael Lubinski.

An independent panel issued a scathing report Monday, saying Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office suffers from “a failure of leadership” and called for a state or federal investigation into the agency’s informant scandal.

After a six-month inquiry, the five-attorney panel called for the following: a substantial reorganization of the office; the establishment of a committee and an ethics officer to ensure fair prosecutions; and the three-year appointment of a monitor to ensure improvements.

Goethals Issues Another Rebuke to Rackauckas in Informants Saga

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals during a court hearing.

Joshua Sudock/OC Register

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals during a court hearing.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals Thursday threw out an Anaheim man’s life sentence and murder conviction for killing a pregnant Fullerton woman in 1998, handing District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ team yet another rebuke in the wake of the jailhouse informants scandal.

Goethals ruled that the constitutional rights of Henry Rodriguez, 39, were violated during his second trial in 2006, when the prosecution team withheld vital evidence regarding an informant from his defense attorney.

Testimony Reveals Secret ‘Blog’ Kept by Sheriff’s Deputies on Jailhouse Snitches

Orange County Central Men's jail

Kaitlin Washburn for Voice of OC

Orange County Central Men’s jail

Orange County sheriff’s deputies for years maintained a secret, “unauthorized” blog on jail informants that was withheld from defense attorneys subpoenaing such records, according to testimony Tuesday in the Daniel Patrick Wozniak double murder case.

Details about the “special handling blog” buried in the computer system of the main county jail in Santa Ana were revealed during an unusual hearing in the trial of Wozniak — who faces the death penalty for the 2010 killing of a Costa Mesa man and a woman friend from Irvine.

Judge: More Jail Informant Records Hidden by O.C. Sheriff’s Deputies

dekraairuling080414

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals said Friday that a “significant amount” of recently uncovered informant evidence should have been provided years ago to public defenders for convicted mass murderer Scott Evans Dekraai.

Goethals made the stinging comment at a hearing on how to handle 1,157 pages of currently sealed deputy notes on jail informants that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department withheld until their existence was revealed this spring in another murder case.

This latest failure to disclose evidence to defense is expected to be used by county public defender Scott Sanders for new claims of outrageous government conduct to attempt to block the death penalty for Dekraai — who in 2014 pleaded guilty to in 2011 massacre of his ex-wife and seven others in a Seal Beach beauty salon, the largest mass murder in Orange County history.

Feds Announce Investigation Into Jailhouse Snitch Scandal

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens (left) and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

Pool photos by OC Register

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens (left) and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for violating the rights of defendants through a jail informants network, officials said Thursday.

The investigation, which was announced by federal officials in Washington, D.C., will center on how prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies for years illegally gleaned information for criminal trials through covert use of informants in county jails, and then violated defendants’ constitutional rights by not disclosing that information to their attorneys.

“A systematic failure to protect the right to counsel and to a fair trial makes criminal proceedings fundamentally unfair and diminishes the public’s faith in the integrity of the justice system,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.

Dekraai Judge Threatens O.C. Sheriff With Contempt Hearing

Sandra Hutchens (p)

It was another explosive day in the jailhouse snitch case Friday, as a Superior Court judge threatened Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens with contempt of court for the way her department has responded to his repeated requests to produce records related to the use of jailhouse informants in the Scott Evans Dekraai case.

The threat from Thomas M. Goethals came a day after the U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation into how the Sheriff’s Department and Orange County District Attorney’s Office have for years illegally gleaned information for criminal trials through covert use of informants in county jails, and then violated defendants’ constitutional rights by not disclosing that information to their attorneys…

Feds Test Rodney King Law With Jail Informants Investigation

dojbuilding

The U.S. Department of Justice is breaking new ground with its civil rights investigation into how Orange County’s district attorney and sheriff have used jailhouse informants to systematically violate defendant rights, according to legal authorities.

The investigation announced Dec. 15 marks the first time a 1994 law, which historically has been used against police departments, is being specifically directed at a prosecution agency for constitutional rights violations in criminal cases, say scholars and former federal prosecutors.

The federal statute, known as Code 14141, was an outgrowth of the Rodney King case — in which Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of criminal offenses after a 1991 video captured them savagely beating King, an African American, following a car chase…

Please contact David Washburn directly at dwashburn@voiceofoc.org.

  • verifiedsane

    The jail house snitch scandal is just a nasty symptom (not the root cause) of the widespread and institutionalized government corruption entrenched in the OC good old boys & girls ruling class club. While this scandal makes some news headlines; the most egregious crimes being perpetrated by corrupted government entities against the law abiding citizens of OC are still being done each day hidden behind closed doors and in secret. Those are the real crimes & stories that are not being investigated by the Feds or reported in the news.