Sheriff’s Deputy Says, Despite Gap in Jail Log, Deputies Never Stopped Making Entries

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

Judge Thomas Goethals presides over the trial of mass murderer Scott Dekraai in a courtroom on the 11th floor of the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana on Monday, June 5, 2017.

Orange County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Jonathan Larson testified at a court hearing Thursday he recalled continuous use of the Special Handling log, daily notes kept by jail deputies, during his year in the Special Handling unit, the same year there is an unexplained six-month gap in the log.

The Sheriff’s Department has been unable to explain why between April and early October of 2011 there are no entries in the daily log, a key piece of evidence that has shed light on how the Sheriff’s Department worked with informants in county jails.

“I didn’t write in the log personally, but the log was being done the whole time I was there.”

Orange County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Jonathan Larson testified under oath, later clarifying that he did write in the log, just not every day

At the hearing Thursday, Judge Thomas Goethals asked Lt. Michael McHenry, who helped gather jailhouse documents for court cases, for his theory on the gap in log entries.

“I can think of two.  Journaling like that log takes a lot of effort, and if you’re busy and no one’s paying attention, it doesn’t get done,” McHenry said.

“That’s the random explanation. What’s the other explanation?” Goethals asked.

“It got deleted,” McHenry said.

The hearing is part of the ongoing case of Scott Evans Dekraai, a mass murderer who shot and killed eight people at a Seal Beach beauty salon in 2011. Although Dekraai has admitted guilt, the case has been delayed for years after it was disclosed that Dekraai confessed to an informant while in custody, in violation of his constitutional rights.

The case has also been delayed as major sources of jail evidence related to informants, including the Special Handling log, were disclosed in late 2014 and 2016, prompting questions as to why the records emerged so long after they were originally ordered in January 2013.

The Special Handling log and a computer database of inmate movements known as TRED have shed light on the ongoing jailhouse snitch scandal, or how Sheriff’s deputies, often at the behest of investigators, worked informants in the jails to obtain confessions, at times from charged defendants without the knowledge of defense attorneys.

The court may consider throwing out the death penalty altogether if it’s shown that Sheriff’s Department officials destroyed, withheld or delayed disclosure of evidence related to jail informants despite subpoenas to produce the records.

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders has argued in court motions that the six months of log entries were deliberately deleted to destroy damning evidence during that period that Fernando Perez, the prolific informant to whom Dekraai confessed, was working with law enforcement to get confessions from two charged inmates.

But there are unanswered questions about Larson’s testimony.

Larson said he does not remember when exactly he started working in Special Handling, the jail unit that deals with sensitive inmates, including informants. He says it was sometime in late 2010 or early 2011.

He testified that when he first arrived in the unit, the log was not in use. But shortly after he arrived, Lieutenant Brent Giudice revived its use, Larson said.

Deputy Attorney General Michael Murphy, who has taken over prosecution of Dekraai, asked Larson to explain an interview he gave to Sgt. Mike Few, as documented in an October 2016 memo. Few writes that Larson said he “and other team members discontinued the log for a period of time in 2011.”

“I thought I told him that it started in 2011 because it was not being done prior to that,” Larson said.

Sergeants and lieutenants of the jail have testified in this hearing that they were not aware of much of the informant activity described in the Special Handling log and that they had not read the log, or were unaware of it entirely, until it was released publicly and published in the newspaper.

But Larson stated that his “immediate supervisors and lieutenants knew what we were doing” with respect to informants.

“Our lieutenants read through our evaluations, looked through our log on a daily basis, from my understanding,” Larson said. “We would talk to our supervisors – they’d come in and have questions if there was something they didn’t understand in the log.”

Only one of the four sergeants who supervised Larson during his year in Special Handling has testified in the hearing so far.

The court hearing will resume July 5 with testimony from Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.

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

  • Lyanna Lyns

    Why does Goethals always look constipated? Can someone give this poor, hardworking judge a bran muffin?

  • verifiedsane

    BREAKING NEWS: Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens testifies that jailhouse informant system does not exist – http://www.ocregister.com/2017/07/05/o-c-sheriff-sandra-hutchens-testifies-that-jailhouse-informant-system-does-not-exist/ Lying Sandra ups the ante…..

  • Cynthia Ward

    2 things that seem to be key to this discussion and easily resolved. Was the log deleted? IT techs can find that, even if the files were written over.

    When did the Deputy work in that unit? Uh…do they not keep personnel records anymore? Or dd those get deleted too?

  • LFOldTimer

    More refreshing sunlight from Mr. Moxley over at the Weekly:

    “Finally, an OC Deputy Is Unwilling to Tell Laughable Lies in Snitch Scandal”

    http://www.ocweekly.com/news/one-orange-county-deputy-isnt-willing-to-tell-laughable-lies-in-jailhouse-informant-scandal-8216780

    Again, hat-tip to Deputy Larson for his refreshingly honest testimony. A brave young man who did honor to both his sworn oath and badge. He gives us hope. Promote him to Captain.

  • Paul Lucas

    Kudos Deputy Larson

  • LFOldTimer

    You’ve gotta love that look on Judge Goethal’s face in the photo. Priceless. It looks like he’s playing $1000 no limit hold ’em at a poker table and just realized the dealer is playing with a marked decked. lol.

    Please, good Judge. Run for DA. We need you like a man dying of thirst needs a glass of water.

    • verifiedsane

      It would be tough for the judge to run for DA, if he places both the current DA and Sheriff in Jail…..can you imagine the blow back and money that would be unleashed from the ruling oligarchy to destroy any fundamental change agent…..who ever the outsider that is brave to run; they are going to have to clean house in both the DA’s and Sheriff’s office to be modestly successful…….and they better be ready to take the gloves off if they hope to change this whole institutionalized culture of corruption…..You can count on The Sheriff’s Union going crazy if an outsider with actual integrity runs and is elected….I do have to say Judge Goethal’s disgusted look in the photo speaks volumes….but after witnessing this bumbling circus of criminal deceit, corruption, and purposeful incompetence; the judge would surely have to think very long and hard before entering into that dysfunctional swamp…….

      • LFOldTimer

        Judge Goethals has occupied a seat on the OC Superior Court bench for well over 10 years. You can well imagine how it must have insulted his intelligence when some of these clowns took a sworn oath in his courtroom to tell the truth then climbed up on the witness stand and delivered testimony that an 8 year old would laugh at. No wonder the man’s at his wit’s end. He’s going to have Darth Vader eyes as Hutchens takes the hot seat after the disrespect she’s exhibited toward his court.

        The corruption has gone on for so long in the county justice system it’s going to be a tall order for any new regime to turn it around. If Spitzer is the only challenger – forget it – we’re done. Frankenstein vs. Dracula. But you’re right. Hoping for Judge Goethals to run for DA is a pipe dream. But we need a real leader with cajo*es who rules by a moral code to take charge. So far the only one I’ve seen who fits that bill in Judge Goethals.

        If Goethals tossed both the DA and Hutchens in the slammer – then ran for DA and won – he’d he the new John Wayne of OC be the Grand Marshal at every parade in OC.

  • LFOldTimer

    “It got deleted,” McHenry said.”

    BINGO! Give the man a glazed donut.

    “He testified that when he first arrived in the unit, the log was not in
    use. But shortly after he arrived, Lieutenant Brent Giudice revived its
    use, Larson said.”

    Giudice is an unusual last name. I wonder if he’s any relation to OCSD Lt. Erin Lorriane Giudice, a former OCSD Harbormaster, who got busted in 2009 by the Irvine Police for driving an unmarked police vehicle drunk (BAC 0.14) during duty hours and colliding with a car another car in Irvine? Did our newly appointed Change Agent Hutchens fire her? Nope. Only transferred her to work in the jail (of all places). lol.

    I challenge anybody with a real job to drive a company car drunk, cause an accident while doing so, plead no contest and see if you’re able to retain employment with that company. lol.

    Oh hold it. I forgot. OCSD is held to a “lower standard” than the rest of us.

    “But Larson stated that his “immediate supervisors and lieutenants knew what we were doing” with respect to informants.”

    Thank you for your candid testimony, Deputy Larson. Did Dr. Comedy and the Orange County Grand Jury ever contact you for an interview in their $400,000 illegal informant jail scandal investigation? You seem to be a wealth of information. It’s strange that the OCGJ did not quote you in their report. As a matter of fact, the OCGJ contradicted your sworn testimony by claiming the informant operations were only the acts of a few ‘rogue deputies’.

    Oh, wait. Just recently a retired OCSD Lieutenant Irons who supervised the Special Handling Unit testified that she was aware of the jail informant operations too and passed the information up the chain of command to a captain who made most of the operational decisions. So her testimony seems to corroborate yours. Funny how that works. Hmmm.

    “Our lieutenants read through our evaluations, looked through our log on
    a daily basis, from my understanding,” Larson said. “We would talk to
    our supervisors – they’d come in and have questions if there was
    something they didn’t understand in the log.”

    Wow. Very enlightening testimony, Deputy Larson. God bless. We appreciate your honesty and wish you the very best in your career.

    VOC – I didn’t see a quote from police union President Tom Dominguez about these latest developments in your article. Was his phone working?

  • RyanCantor

    “It got deleted,” McHenry said.

    NOPE. Nothing to see here. Just a few rogue crime-stoppers being over zealous in their pursuit of justice.

    Absolute mythology. All is well. Go about your day, Citizens.