Sheriff Hutchens Testifies At Court Hearing on Informants Scandal

JOSE OCHOA, Voice of OC Intern

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens testified at Wednesday's hearing in the jailhouse informant case.

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said at a court hearing Wednesday that while she believes there was no widespread misuse of jailhouse informants by her department, sheriff’s deputies moved confidential informants in the jails to elicit incriminating statements from defendants over the course of years.

“Is it your current conclusion that over a course of years, rather than over a course of days, weeks or even months, sheriff’s deputies operating inside the Orange County jail system intentionally moved working confidential informants into close proximity with targeted defendants?” asked Judge Thomas Goethals, a question he has asked several other witnesses in the hearing.

“I would say yes,” Hutchens said.

She agreed with Goethals’ statement that the goal of the movement was to “elicit incriminating statements” from those defendants.

“We’re not talking once or twice. This happened for a long time, didn’t it?” Goethals asked.

“Yes,” Hutchens replied.

Hutchens testified Wednesday at a hearing packed with television cameras, attorneys, reporters and members of the public.

The hearing is part of the 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. His jail confession occurred after he was represented by an attorney, in violation of his constitutional rights, and after he had already confessed to the police.

As part of the hearing, Hutchens will need to convince Goethals that her department has complied with subpoenas dating back to January 2013, despite major delays in the production of two key records, the Special Handling log and computer records known as TREDs, that have raised questions about whether the Sheriff’s Department destroyed or deliberately withheld documents from the court.

Depending on what he hears, Goethals may rule out the death penalty entirely, and sentence Dekraai to eight consecutive life sentences in prison. At least six other murder cases have had sentences overturned or reduced as a result the snitch scandal.

Echoing statements she has previously made to the media, the Sheriff testified she believes arguments that Orange County has a system of jailhouse informants are “blown out of proportion” and that if there was any misconduct, it was the work of a handful of deputies.

“…In my mind, it is not something widespread. It is not something they devote, as a unit, the majority of their time,” Hutchens said regarding the use of informants. “I will not sit here and say that nobody may have violated something with respect to handling informants because we all know there are matters under investigation.”

It is not illegal to use informants against someone charged with a crime, but it’s unconstitutional if a defendant is already represented by an attorney.

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders showed Hutchens several documents that he believes prove not only the illegal use of informants, but that sergeants, lieutenants and command staff knew, and commended, deputies’ work with confidential informants, or CIs.

They include deputies’ commendations for their work “cultivating CIs;” memos that describe deputies’ duties to include cultivating, developing and managing informants; and a brag sheet written by deputy William Grover for his supervisor, in which he discusses how he developed a confidential informant that helped investigators execute a search warrant on a methamphetamine lab.

Hutchens said she had not seen any of those documents.

The Sheriff also repeated an argument made by several other witnesses, that the term “informants” has been ill-defined and used broadly and erroneously by deputies in their writings, giving the appearance of a vast network of jailhouse informants who were cultivated and maintained by jail deputies.

The reality, Hutchens testified, is deputies who worked with informants were acting “at the direction of an outside agency” or were gathering information volunteered by inmates to keep the jail safe.

“Do they go around looking for informants to build a case of their own – no,” Hutchens said. “But do they deal with informants on behalf of other outside agency requests or our investigations? It [depends on] what you mean by the term informants.”

“I think it’s a matter of semantics,” said Hutchens.

Goethals appeared skeptical at times, noting that after the disclosure of TREDs – a computerized database of inmate movements – in late 2014, he received several sworn statements from Sheriff’s Department staff that they had produced all the documents to comply with court subpoenas.

“Before the Special Handling log washed ashore in March 2016, I read several declarations, sworn statements from people under your command, who said, ‘we’ve looked everywhere and we don’t have anything else,’” Goethals said to the Sheriff. “And lo and behold, in March 2016, not only is there something, but there’s another 1,156 pages.”

He also mentioned the first witness in the hearing, Lt. Andy Stephens, who testified in late May that the department still had not searched 68 boxes of files that were found in a room in the Intake Release Center.

“I’ve heard that everything was turned over, but time after time, that has turned out to be not true,” Goethals said.

Hutchens said she could not explain why the boxes had not been searched or why the Special Handling log was never discovered by the sergeants supervising the Special Handling unit.

She blamed the delays in part on the jail’s aging computer system.

The Sheriff said the department has since improved its practices in order to ensure documents are properly produced to the court and that deputies are properly trained in the law surrounding informants.

“I am confident that we have taken appropriate steps to make sure we’re complying with the law,” Hutchens said.

Hutchens also maintained that she and other command staff knew nothing about the Special Handling log, a trove of notes by jail deputies that was disclosed in 2016.

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 by news media.

“My command staff, I don’t know a single member that said they knew it existed,” Hutchens said. “It was not a department requested or authorized log.”

Goethals asked her to respond to a statement made by another witness, Deputy Jonathan Larson, who testified last week that his sergeants read the log and would ask deputies’ questions about it.

“When Deputy Larson says that, and I believe him, I would hope these weren’t the same sergeants who said they’ve looked everywhere,” Hutchens responded.

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

 

  • verifiedsane

    The latest reporting on lying Sheriff Sandra’s double speak and tangled web of deceit –

    Jailhouse snitch controversy: Sheriff Hutchens took combative tone in letter to deputies, employees – http://www.ocregister.com/2017/07/07/snitch-controversy-sheriff-hutchens-adopted-different-tone-in-internal-message-to-deputies-employees/

  • Lyanna Lyns

    Here is an idea, Sandy, stop letting ToddTwoFace use your deputies as his personal Guido enforcement and threats squad. Bad form, sugar tush, bad form.

  • LFOldTimer

    Women in law enforcement or those who are considering a career in law enforcement should be particularly angry at Hutchens since she’s set their cause back by decades. Like it or not, she’s perceived as a statement on women in LE leadership roles.

  • john smead

    Violations of rights occurred. This has been admitted to by the OCSD, the OCDA and was reported on by the Grand Jury. The issue is whether it is systemic and conspiratorial. You are entitled to your opinion but the existence of a half dozen cases, the continued mention of the same 3-4 deputies and the same 3-4 members of the DA office in all these cases and the fact that it occurred over about 8 years does not seem to reflect systemic conspiracy when there are 40+ DA’s handling felony cases, hundreds of deputies assigned to the jail, approximately 3,000 inmates in the jail at any one time and the prosecution of over 10,000 felony cases over the same 8 year period. Even 1 violation is not acceptable and so the occurrence of perhaps 2 dozen over this 8 year period boggles the mind. But with the perspective of the thousands of cases prosecuted, the hundreds of deputies working in the jail and the many dozens of prosecutors in the DA Office it stretches the imagination to go where some want to take this. The GJ got it right.
    This is a problem of leadership and management for sure. Go to the OC Grand Jury.org web site and read the GJ reports done on last years Jail Escape and the Hostile Work Place. Both call it like it is with the OCSD and the OCDA Office. What’s there is there..what isn’t isn’t.

    • LFOldTimer

      Stop blaming 3-4 deputies for this scandal.

      We have sworn testimony from a former Lieutenant who oversaw the Special Handling Unit until her retirement in 2015 that she knew about the informant program – as did other supervisors – and that she passed all informant operation information up the chain of command to a jail captain who made most of the informant program operational decisions.

      There are also written documents that show ranking supervisors knew about the informant program and condoned it.

      Blaming low-level deputies, who were likely only following orders, for the OCSD jail informant program is so crude and shameful.

      Why don’t you do some research and actually review the courtroom evidence that has been collected so far pursuant to the hearing?

      • john smead

        what informant program are you talking about? Do your homework…and be sure you know what ‘program’ others are talking about that you like to quote. there are everyday informants in the jails that is how the jails stay safe..lots of personnel are involved in utilizing their input. it is few and far between, however, when informants become mercenary informants and trade info for favors like sentence reductions.
        I am not “blaming” deputies I am saying that a few deputies went out of and beyond their role with mercenary informants .. maybe a sergeant or lieutenant did too.. besides the hundreds and hundreds of deputies, how may sergeants and lieutenants are there?? do you homework.
        and be sure you read about the federal program such as black flag that was run by the feds in the OC jail. it was known and approved by OCSD command. the same few deputies were in on that one too (legitimately)… the issues sanders raises are besides that..but You seem to assume that the deputies were all part of some sophisticated network of collusion.. it won’t add up.. sorry …do your own homework and make sure that what you interpret as testimony is what is actually being interpreted correctly.. there are 4 different informants. I am talking about the mercenary informants .

        • verifiedsane

          John appears to be the Sheriff’s and DA’s apologist b*tch….One has to wonder which branch of the corrupt oligarchy does John work or lap dog for?

          • john smead

            OMG.. well thanks for actually making my case for me.. I appreciate it..
            You have a good day.

          • verifiedsane

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

            Legal experts say the jurors’ “witch hunt” finding demonstrates the need for an independent probe in Orange County.

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/orange-county-california-jail-snitch-scandal-grand-jury_us_594d7741e4b02734df2a6c31

          • LFOldTimer

            Very interesting FACTS in that HP article, verified. Thanks for shining some more sunlight on the subject matter.

            But you can spoon feed the truth to those in denial – and they’ll continue to deny. So your research is probably a futile attempt to teach and inform.

            So it appears, according to the memo to Lt. Mike James, that those as high in rank as Assistant Sheriff were aware of informants being cultivated, wired and used in the OCSD jail to obtain incriminating statements from inmates.

            How could Hutchens take the witness stand and claim this scandal was limited to a few low ranking deputies with a straight face? She’s not aware of all this overwhelming evidence???

            Bullsh*t.

          • verifiedsane

            No one is going to convince the deniers….but readers should at least be provided the information to derive their own independent opinions

          • verifiedsane
        • LFOldTimer

          “.. maybe a sergeant or lieutenant did too..”

          No. Not “maybe”. Evidence in the form of written documentation and sworn testimony from those who oversaw the Special Handling Unit and deputies who reported to ranking OCSD supervisors made it very clear that the illegal informant operations were managed and condoned by those as high in the food chain as the rank of captain. That, sir, is a NETWORK, whether you choose to acknowledge the FACTS or not.

          Hutchens’ argument was that the cultivation and illegal use of jail informants were ISOLATED acts of a few low ranking deputies. Nothing is farther from the truth, based upon the evidence that has been presented in the courtroom. This was an organized program that high ranking OCSD supervisors created, managed and condoned. You seem to conveniently omit those FACTOIDS from your little analysis. Do you really believe that sergeants, lieutenants and a captain would participate in such a program unless it was condoned by the executive staff at OCSD? Do you think those ranking officers would risk their careers and prosecution by managing an illegal informant program?

          “,,,,but You seem to assume that the deputies were all part of some sophisticated network of collusion…..”

          I specifically refer to the Special Handling Unit and those in OCSD management who oversaw it, had knowledge of the informant operations and supervised OCSD officers who cultivated the illegal informants and utilized them to illegally obtain incriminating statements from jail inmates who were assigned attorneys and thereby protected against use of illegal informants by the authorities to obtain incriminating statements under the 6th Amendment of the US Constitution. I have no idea how many worked in the Special Handling Unit and how many supervisors oversaw the informant operations over the years or the total number of informants that were misused. But it’s safe to say that numbers is in the dozens. That sir, is a “network” (defined as “an interconnected or interrelated chain, group, or system” – that, according to the evidence, was condoned by OCSD personnel all the way up to the rank of captain.

          Oh, and the illegal informants used by OCSD were known to receive 10’s or thousands of dollars in compensation, leniency and special perks and favors in the jail for the illegal information that they turned over to the authorities. This was reported by the media and if you spent the time to properly research this subject matter before spouting off – you’d know it too.

          Thanks for your input – but your knowledge seems limited to only the details on the topic that you want to know – as opposed to the details that actually describe all the facts pertaining to the illegal jail informant scandal.

          I suggest you bone up on the facts before entering into a board discussion on the topic.

          • LFOldTimer

            Appears we’ve lost Mr. Smead.

    • David Zenger

      Mr. Smead, your statistical “analysis” (just like Hutchens’ response to the ACLU over abuse) is problematic. Yes, the volume of people who pass through the jail system is enormous – but it is absolutely known. The number of incidents of abuse, or in the case of the snitches’ deprivation of prisoners Constitutional rights isn’t known at all. Even a useful random sampling is non-existent. Of course in the latter instance that has something to do with records that have been hidden or destroyed. There is no analytical reason not to suspect that abuses in Theo Lacy and the Central Jail are far more extensive than the jail industrial complex wants us to believe.

      BTW, some of us believe the “Hostile Work Place” may have been ginned up to discredit Craig Hunter (who certainly needs no help discrediting himself) as the he is suing Rackaukas & Co.

  • RyanCantor

    “My command staff, I don’t know a single member that said they knew it existed,” Hutchens said. “It was not a department requested or authorized log.”

    See no evil.

    Hear no evil.

    Speak no evil.

  • LFOldTimer

    Whoa….back up.

    The title of this blog in incorrect. Please strike the word “Scandal”.

    The Sheriff has told us repeatedly in the past that the jail informant situation is not a “scandal”. She said this publicly at the Board of Supervisor meetings. So did the police union representatives. And if the Sheriff and AOCDS said this it must be true. lol.

    The Sheriff told us that the offenders only needed more training. Remember? lol. Now she’s throwing the low level deputies under the bus while taking no action whatsoever against all the supervisors who actually created and managed the illegal jail informant operation. Oh, and the courtroom evidence and sworn testimony clearly points to the OCSD supervisors managing and condoning the jail informant operations. So let’s not play stupid here.

    So far at least a half dozen heinous violent criminals have had their convictions overturned and were given generous plea bargains, new trials or even get out of jail free passes due to the illegal use of jail informants. How can Hutchens say with a straight face under sworn oath claim that the informant operations were not widespread? That’s an outright lie based upon the facts before us.

    After Scott Sanders showed Hutchens the documents PROVING that the jail supervisors KNEW ABOUT and CONDONED the jail informant program – how could Hutchens say with a straight face that “that if there was any misconduct, it was the work of a handful of deputies”. So Hutchens is letting a few grunt deputies twist in the wind while doing NOTHING to the supervisors who MANAGED and CONDONED the jail informant operations??

    I wonder how the rank ‘n file deputies feel about Hutchens throwing a few low-ranking deputies under the bus while allowing the OCSD supervisors who managed and condoned the jail informant program walk away unscathed? If I were a grunt deputy I’d be pissed.

    Hutchens is a pathetic example of a leader. The buck stops at HER desk. She’s in charge of OCSD operations (to include the jail) and now she’s blaming a few grunt deputies for HER INCOMPETENCE!!! SHAME ON HER!!!!

  • David Zenger

    The issue isn’t an informant system – it’s the misuse of it, ignoring court orders, committing perjury and destroying evidence. These are all still crimes, right?

  • verifiedsane

    Lying Sheriff Sandra goes all cavalier on the court….breaks out in dance…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu0orqfyv8M