Sheriff’s Deputies Take the Fifth During Jailhouse Snitch Hearing

Two Orange County Sheriff’s deputies, Benjamin Garcia and William Grover, invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at a court hearing Thursday rather than answer questions about their dealings with jailhouse informant records.

“It’s disappointing, but that’s his constitutional right,” said Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals of Grover.

Thursday was the second day of an ongoing hearing where Goethals has ordered attorneys to present evidence on whether or not Sheriff’s Department officials withheld, delayed or shredded documents about the use of jailhouse informants, despite court subpoenas to produce the records.

It’s an outgrowth of the murder trial of Scott Evans Dekraai, who pled guilty to killing his ex-wife and seven others at a Seal Beach nail salon in 2011. Dekraai’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, alleged prosecutors violated Dekraai’s rights when they placed him in a cell next to a jailhouse informant, elicited a confession and never gave that information to his attorneys.  The informant was used even though Dekraai already had confessed to the mass murders.

Grover and Garcia both work in the unit that deals with jail informants, known as Special Handling, and have written prolific entries in the Special Handling log, an electronic document of deputies’ notes on informants. They were called to testify Thursday in part because of a document they wrote together in 2013 that acknowledges the termination and replacement of the Special Handling log.

Both, however, are accused by Sanders of lying under oath in earlier testimonies. 

Grover, for example, in one testimony downplayed his work with snitches, saying he spends “less than zero” time working with informants. But he has documented his work with informants in the Special Handling log in detail and even bragged about his work with informants in an internal performance evaluation.

In 2014, Garcia never mentioned the jail records system he and other special handling deputies to track inmates and informants. A year later, asked in court why he didn’t mention the system, known as TRED, he said he was trained not to bring it up in court.

But in earlier testimony from a 2009 homicide case, Garcia spoke openly about TRED and how it was used.

At Thursday’s hearing, Sanders’ first question was direct: did Grover make a decision to hide the Special Handling log when he first testified?

Grover immediately invoked his Fifth Amendment right and his lawyer, Jan Christie, said she had advised him to plead the Fifth in response to every question at the hearing.

Invoking the Fifth Amendment is not an automatic pass for a witness to avoid testimony. In order to plead the Fifth, a witness must be able to show the court that they have substantial and real exposure to criminal prosecution.

Christie pointed to three pending investigations into the use of jailhouse snitches in Orange County jails by the Department of Justice, California Attorney General and OC Grand Jury. Grover has also consistently invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege in court proceedings since his initial testimony in 2015.

Through the deputies’ union, Christie also represents several others who have been called as witnesses.

In this case, Goethals agreed that Grover could face future criminal prosecution and referred to Grover’s previous testimonies where he denied working with snitches.

In a blistering 2015 ruling, Goethals wrote that Garcia and fellow deputy Seth Tunstall “either intentionally lied or willfully withheld material evidence from this court during the course of their various testimonies.”

“I didn’t address Deputy Grover in any prior rulings…but if I had to write those two rulings [again] I would have included Deputy Grover’s name,” Goethals said Thursday.

Garcia also invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege, citing the same investigations.

The hearing will continue on May 31 at 9 a.m.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

  • RyanCantor

    If there is no informant program, why are sworn officers invoking the 5th Amendment when asked about it?

    Tony?

    TONY?

  • Sharon Wright

    It is their right to invoke the fifth. The unions are the culprits in regard to the pay/benefit packages. Snitches have been around forever and play a role in putting criminals behind bars… but some feel that murderers deserve to be served filet mignon and get a get out of jail free card just because a judge has gas.

    • LFOldTimer

      But it shouldn’t be their right to REFUSE to do their BASIC duties as police officers and keep their damn jobs. Testifying in court is a BASIC FUNCTION of a police officer’s job.

      Try that at your place of work. REFUSE to perform your BASIC duties and watch what happens to you. You can go ahead and take the 5th all you want while your employer gives you the boot right out the door. If a cop REFUSES to testify it should result in automatic termination, just like it would anyone else. This just reinforces the FACT that cops are held to a “LOWER STANDARD” than the average citizen. The “higher standard” is a complete and total bogus myth.

      There is such a thing called the US Constitution. Cops are SWORN UNDER OATH to defend it and obey the laws.

      You can try to blame it on the judges or the criminals or even on Donald Trump. But level headed people who are half-way intelligent keep their eye on the ball and see through all the phony excuses.

      • justanon

        “But it shouldn’t be a cop’s right to REFUSE to do his BASIC duty as police officer and keep his damn job. ….. If a cop REFUSES to testify it should result in automatic termination, just like it would anyone else.”

        Where does it say the sheriff deputies are “refusing to testify”?

        Cops have the same rights as any other citizen to plead the fifth, that is not the same as not testifying, but hey, leave it to conservative nut-jobs to want to deep-six the constitution over anything they don’t ‘like’.

        “There is such a thing called the US Constitution. Cops are SWORN UNDER OATH to defend it and obey the laws. Enabling them and making excuses for them is absolutely pathetic. … But level headed people who are half-way intelligent keep their eye on the ball and see through all the phony excuses.”

        Ha, ha, ha, NO self-awareness at all! You know nothing, old fool.

        I’ll take a judge’s opinion over an old know-nothing fool any day.

        “It’s disappointing, but that’s his constitutional right,” said Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals of Grover.”

        • verifiedsane

          IGNORED……………………… 🙂

          • LFOldTimer

            Diaper child refuses to blame illegal aliens who come to America and steal jobs from our underclass citizens and legal immigrants.

            Nor does diaper child apparently believe that a cop sworn under oath should
            lose his or her job after REFUSING (taking the 5th includes a refusal to
            answer questions (provide testimony) in a courtroom on the witness stand –
            make no doubt about it) to perform a basic police function of providing
            sworn testimony in criminal case in the furtherance of justice because
            he or she is skeered it may incriminate him or her and result in arrest,
            conviction and jail time. lol.

            Black’s Law Dictionary, per Wikipedia, describes ‘the privilege against self-incrimination” (ie Fifth Amendment) in part as “To “plead the Fifth” is to refuse to answer a question because the response could form self-incriminating evidence”

            Note the word “refuse” in the description.

            Perry Mason Diaper Child should pay special attention.

            Does Diaper Child also think it’s acceptable for cops to REFUSE to testify in court (take the Fifth) that results in heinous convicted violent felons (including murderers) to get new trials at public expense, sweet plea deals, or even ‘get out of jail free cards’? lol. Diaper Kind – please respond. Should those cops who refuse to perform their basic employment duties keep their jobs too???

            If any employee in the private sector refused to perform a basic duty associated with his or her job (if a secretary refused to type; is a butcher refused to cut meat; if a taxi driver refused to drive on the freeway; If an auto mechanic refused to change oil & filter, etc…) how long do you think they’d last on the job??? lol.

            Diaper Kind is a real hoot. 🙂

          • justanon

            Just because someone’s a “cop” does not mean they lose their Constitutional right to not incriminate themselves like you so stupidly suggested:

            “There is such a thing called the US Constitution. Cops are SWORN UNDER OATH to defend it and obey the laws.”

            Whether or not these two deserve to continue their employment is a different matter, but not based on whether they plead the Fifth or not, but rather are they guilty of a crime. Self-incrimination is not tantamount to “admitting guilt.” Self-incrimination can mean providing any information that might be used against you, fairly or unfairly.

            Of course, that’s only the law and you right-wing nuts don’t care about no stinkin’ laws, nah, you only care about demonizing and smearing people and the law and the Constitution be damned.

          • verifiedsane

            IGNORED……

          • justanon

            Two words ……Seth Rich!

            Ha, ha, ha!!!!

          • justanon

            I guess you’re too busy following that big, big, blockbuster of a story about Seth Rich that you’ve been crowing about.

          • verifiedsane

            THE IGNORE BUTTON HAS BEEN USED….:)

          • justanon

            Seth Rich!!!

            How does it feel being at the bottom of that cliff with all the other lemmings????

          • verifiedsane

            The ignorant propaganda & hate are Ignored……….. 🙂

          • justanon

            You’re right, I ignored the propaganda and hate emanating from Fox ‘News’, but you and old bigot FELL FOR IT, hook, line and sinker, ha, ha, ha!

            Let’s play WHICH LEMMING WROTE IT?:

            “Hopefully Trump orders a special prosecutor to investigation the Seth Rich murder. One was never appointed for Vince Foster. It’s time to follow the leads and bring the murderers to justice.

            Shot twice in the back and no valuables removed from his body. hmmm???

            It took a PI to expose the truth. The DC cops are in the back pockets of the dirty political system.

            But this has been common knowledge for a LONG time. Seth’s parents are not going to let it get buried. Good for them.

            This could be 1000x’s bigger than Watergate!!! Fer shur!!! ;)”
            ****************
            Was it lemming #1, verifiedinsane or lemming #2, LF Old bigot?

          • verifiedsane

            justanon has been placed on IGNORE…they must be commenting to their Goldfish again…

          • LFOldTimer

            Diaper Kind got schooled again and won’t admit it.

            And tomorrow morning the sun will rise again in the east. lol.

    • verifiedsane

      how about innocent until proven guilty….does that ring any bells for you?….or the right against coerced self incrimination after a person has been charged with a crime and has legal representation….or how about sworn officers (who are held to a higher standard/expectation of behavior as public servants gifted with extraordinary powers with positions of public trust) committing perjury on the stand in a court of law…I guess you don’t believe in the Constitution or bill of rights either…..

  • LFOldTimer

    Amazing.

    Cops sworn under oath to uphold the laws and defend the US Constitution who likely make way north of $200,000 in compensation and are able to collect fat million dollar pensions, compliments of the taxpayers, at a very young retirement age taking the Fifth and refusing to perform one of their basic law enforcement duties of testifying in court in their criminal cases because they’re skeered of going to jail.

    Yet they keep their jobs, their guns, their badges and continue to collect their Cadillac salaries and pensions. I guess they’re just following the instruction of that remedial training that Sheriff Hutchens sent them to. lol.

    Anybody who truly believes that cops are held to a “higher standard” in this society are living in a fantasy world. They play the system so that they can break the laws and skate. They mock the very system that they were sworn under oath to protect and serve.

    When you see that “protect and serve” logo on the side of their patrol cars laugh out loud. The ones who are supposed to have the utmost integrity and honor defecate all over the justice system with zero consequences.

    Welcome to the alternate universe.

    • Philmore

      Amazing ? Amazing is when a new miracle drug or surgery is developed to save or prolong life, or a probe gives us new knowledge about the farthest reaches of space or the sea. THIS conduct by those who act, or at least are paid like they act, to uphold a higher standard to keep the rest of society together, when their ‘standards’ are actually little higher than those of their “clientele”, is FAR from amazing, it’s D-I-S-G-U-S-T-I-N-G.

      • LFOldTimer

        The word “amazing” can denote a repugnant event as well as a spectacular
        feat, Philmore. My intention was the former. You know, like touring a
        seaside town that just got struck by a tsunami or witnessing the crash
        of a airliner. That sort of “amazing” in a negative sense. Besides, it’s
        just semantics.

        I fully agree that cops in a job that only requires a HS education
        or GED to join and are paid like medical doctors and with multi-million
        dollar pensions at age 50 or 55 should be expected to demonstrate the
        integrity of saints, not street gang member thugs.

        The problem
        is that Hutchens lets them get away with it. The buck stops at her
        desk. And it is the obligation of the County Supervisors to call her
        out. But all of them are dirty as the day is long by not holding their
        own accountable. If Spitzer can call out Rackauckas who is an elected
        official Spitzer has NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER to give Hutchens a free pass.

        Yes, it is disgusting considering the fact that we’re supposed to be living in a 1st world nation.

  • verifiedsane

    “Invoking the Fifth Amendment is not an automatic pass for a witness to
    avoid testimony. In order to plead the Fifth, a witness must be able to
    show the court that they have substantial and real exposure to criminal
    prosecution.” Criminals with a badge….yet, not a single arrest! Does anyone have to explain why the public has lost TRUST in our government, judicial system, and law enforcement…..the blue (or in this case khaki) code of silence lives on…