Deputies’ Union Sues County, Says Negligence Could Have Led to Jailbreak

The union for Orange County sheriff’s deputies sued the county Thursday, alleging that mismanagement and negligence by higher-ups has fostered a unnecessarily dangerous work environment, and potentially contributed to the recent jailbreak by three inmates.

Among the grievances outlined in the suit by the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS) is an allegation that management at Men’s Central Jail have been directing staff to disobey county policy on inmate counts.

County policy required that deputies conduct “an actual physical body count of inmates” for the counts, according to the suit, but that wasn’t being done, according to an email cited in the suit.

The union says their understanding is that the decision to ignore county policy came from Capt. Chris Wilson, the commander of the men and women’s central jails.

“Cpt. Wilson’s directive to ignore official department policy may have played a role” in the jailbreak of three inmates last month, the suit adds. It says the inmates broke out just as the jail was implementing a new staffing policy that removed jail guards from the roof, which is where the inmates made their escape.

The suit alleges that, in general, reductions in staffing of deputies at the jail has exacerbated dangers at the jail, particularly with a more violent inmate population due to the state’s prisoner realignment.

It names as defendants the county, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, and the county Board of Supervisors.

(Click here to read the lawsuit.)

A spokesman for Sheriff Hutchens said she would need time to review the suit, which was given to her at 5 p.m. Thursday, and would respond next week.

“We are and always have been concerned about the welfare of all our employees,” said the spokesman, Lt. Mark Stichter. “Staffing is one of the many issues that are part of the ongoing review and administrative investigation” related to the jailbreak.

A county spokeswoman declined to comment on the suit, citing a county policy against speaking about pending litigation.

The union’s president, meanwhile, says the problems outlined in the suit are not new.

“We have been voicing our concerns about the safety at the Central Men’s Jail for years,” said AOCDS President Tom Dominguez.

“Those longstanding concerns coupled with a more violent inmate population and the recent significant staffing reductions at the Central Men’s Jail forced us to take immediate action and file this lawsuit.”

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.