Santana: The Demise of OIR Should Trigger Calls to Feds

Last summer, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens boldly announced to county supervisors that the Office of Independent Review was the only thing keeping back a federal takeover of our local jails.

Well, last week OIR Director Stephen Connolly abruptly resigned.

And I’m starting to think a federal takeover may not be such a bad idea.

It’s likely a better deal for local taxpayers.

And much more transparent.

“That poses a very interesting question that certainly needs to be debated in an open and public way,” replied County Supervisor Todd Spitzer late Friday, adding that Connolly’s departure had him – a swing vote on OIR – questioning the concept as well as his own expansion of the idea last year.

Judging from the lack of public information from the OIR bureaucracy over the past seven years, it’s a fair bet to say we’ll get much more actionable information from federal monitors.

On Tuesday, Hutchens is expected to head into a closed session with supervisors and unveil the general fund price tag for an escape-proof roof at the Men’s Central Jail.

It won’t be cheap.

Also keep in mind these could likely be temporary fixes given that supervisors on Tuesday also will be talking in open session about reshaping the entire Civic Center complex — with a $150 million transformation in mind.

And don’t forget that your Deputy Sheriffs are also angling reportedly for a 12 percent raise in their contract talks, which hit official mediation earlier this month around the same time that crooks came shimmying down the front door of the jail in the wee hours.

Given the continually stunning revelations coming out of our jails (check out the lawsuit filed this month by the Deputy Sheriff’s union); and our courtrooms (check out R. Scott Moxley’s dogged postings at OC Weekly); and now the total failure of independent oversight – isn’t it more fiscally prudent to just call in the feds?

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas already did.

Rackauckas last month staged a sad press conference, where he himself had to call on the feds to investigate his own shop, admitting publicly that his hand-picked panel of legal experts told him his agency suffers from a “failure of leadership” and executives are too scared to tell him the truth – not to mention hostile to his own Nixonian-style press operation.

Now, why should taxpayers spend a bunch of money to upgrade aging and outdated jail facilities in a civic center looking at an overall upgrade — with seemingly systemic failures throughout the jails and criminal courts and a breakdown in independent oversight?

Spitzer keeps repeating, and he’s 100 percent on point, that in 2016 citizens expect more oversight of police.

“I don’t believe we’re ever going to be able to go backwards in our country to an era without some civilian oversight of police,” Spitzer said.

That’s why he said he insisted on keeping OIR funded last year, despite blowback from supervisors like Shawn Nelson and Michelle Steel – who I think correctly questioned continued spending on OIR.

So now, how do you double down on a law enforcement complex that seems to be faltering on the fundamentals?

Just watch them.

They are stuck.

There is no cheap fix now, other than the feds.

OIR isn’t a fix-all for the Sheriff’s Department.

Spitzer keeps playing a public game of questioning whether it was Steve Connolly’s failings or whether the model itself doesn’t work.

“You had a cooperative Sheriff,” Spitzer said of the OIR model, “yet he (Connolly) didn’t bring any of these symptoms or signs to the attention of the board that could have telegraphed serious problems.”

“So now I ask myself, is this Connolly or the model or the concept?” Spitzer said.

It’s neither.

You can’t spend $10 on gas and expect to drive across America.

It’s not a question of the type of car or whether gas works.

It’s been six months since the start of what I called a “bullshit ballet” on OIR, which ended up costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. And guess what — just as I predicted we’re nowhere nearer to enacting anything, even though our politicians rashly voted to expand the concept to encompass numerous other agencies like the DA, the Public Defender and the county’s probation department without any kind of study and total opposition from the agencies and their respective labor groups.

Politicians love to play games when it comes to law enforcement oversight.

Lets face it.

They chase the law enforcement union endorsement – because voters love cops.

So politicians don’t want to piss them off.

But independent oversight pisses off police unions.

So politicians like Spitzer, armed with a million dollar staff provided by taxpayers who have been researching this since at least last summer, still says, “I don’t support civilian review commissions but I do support oversight.”

But he still doesn’t quite know what works.

And he’s the most vocal supporter of “oversight.”

After watching this cat-and-mouse game as a reporter for decades, I can tell you it comes down to a few simple options – depending on your penchant for spending.

Civilian review commissions are expensive – because they feature staff, hearings and reports – but they are good for letting off public steam at tense times. Given recent court decisions barring them from sharing any subpoenaed information, they are toothless in terms of public disclosure on incidents.

OIR is not bad, given the cost, but it’s basically just an extra layer of risk management that is able to offer a second set of eyes to internal affairs investigations and certain incidents that are flagged for review.

Yet OIR never reports out anything publicly and has virtually no capacity for public engagement. In fact, an odd key to its success is whether or not the sheriff embraces it – which in turn hinges on total confidentiality for the department.

Lastly, there’s the private lawyer approach, where county supervisors hire their own attorney during controversial incidents or issues and that official can use subpoena powers to help supervisors quickly assess civilian not criminal liability.

That kind of lawyer can help a politician early in a crisis to have an independent set of eyes deliver private advice in real time.

Yet that kind of connection also comes with a cost, called accountability.

Knowledge demands action…

And that kind of knowledge, even Spitzer admits, is something that his colleagues don’t want or at least declined the last time Spitzer put together experts on the issue last year.

Jails are nasty places.

The most comprehensive approach toward civilian review of police is arguably to blend all three options.

LA County taxpayers did just that, paid for all three options.

And their jails turned out to be totally corrupt.

Their sheriff, Lee Baca, left in disgrace. Just like Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona did back in 2008.

And guess who built those cases?

The feds.

  • Debby Bodkin

    The OC Board of Supes. DA Rackauckas and OC Sheriff Hutchens will use Stephen Connolly and the ALLEGED failure of OIR to escape their own federal crimes. I say congrats to Mr. Connolly–run as fast as you can and get the heck out of the RICO criminal enterprise that is now Orange County courts, government, and law enforcement. Save yourself and I hope Michael Gennaco does the right thing from my dealings and personal witness of his integrity and honor.

    IMO as a non-fan of Shawn Nelson. I suspect Nelson may want to make a move for the OC judicial bench sooner than planned because he too wants the Heck out of OC’s evil. corrupt and for-profit RICO legal community where the oc sheriff defense attys also simultaneously represent two of the most powerful religious organizations in California notorious for sexually abusing children and failures to report that we’re never prosecuted. Diocese of Orange and Los Catholic Archdiocese. OC’s children. adults and employees are money makers for corrupt OC officials.

  • B Dalton

    The People of the County need to start a recall of the Sheriff, she’s using her poor leadership in managing the jails and the deputies, their management of “snitches” in her jails with her oversight and jail break outs, as justification for an increase budget monies. How about telling her to get her act together with a 10% cut in her budget or hit the bricks. And the deputies want a 12% pay raise, come on folks. How many of you have gotten a 12% pay raise spread over the last ten(10) years and they want that in one contract. Wake up Orange County throwing money at a sinking ship is a total waste of good money. And for the DA he needs to go for some of the poor leadership/oversight of the lawyers in his office. The top public positions in Law of Orange County are dysfunctional at best!

  • Jacki Livingston

    Norberto, let me tell you the truth. The feds could not begin to give a tiny little rat’s behind about OC corruption. I spent four hours in a room with an FBI agent and a special investigator from the federal department of Health and Human Services. I showed them document after document, email, printouts, clippings, evidence that was so complete, it would have been enough to convict John Gotti. You know what they told me? They don’t care. If it does not represent huge multi million dollar windfalls to the feds, they will not waste time or resources. I still have their business cards, if you want it. The feds couldn’t care less. They leave whistleblowers twisting in the wind as surely as the DA and the Sheriff. Puh-leeze. Stop kidding yourself.

  • LFOldTimer

    This is another example of your typical County bureaucratic cluster….. that we’ve witnessed for the last 10 years.
    So even after most supes publicly acknowledged that Connolly has been a failure as an OIR Director the BoS extended Connolly’s contract in Sept/2015 (?) at $17,500/mo until March 31.2016. Plus a big fat car allowance. That’s 7 months x $17,500 = $122,500, plus the car allowance. For what? What’s he done other act as an arbitrary placeholder of an impotent appointed county lapdog office? More tax dollars down the rathole and absolutely nothing to show for it. Connolly played the county like a fiddle for 8 long years while the BoS complicitly stood by and passively watched. The old BoS publicly reprimanded him at least 3 times for not doing his job – yet Connolly stayed the OIR Director collecting $200,000 + a year. ha. IMO this was a setup from the start. IMO oversight was not the original intention. The original intention seemed to be the APPEARANCE of oversight to appease the townsfolk after the Corona debacle. Connolly just happened to be good friends with Gennaco and got the gig. And he milked it as a failed OIR Director for 8 long years thanks to the aid of the BoS who were supposed to supervise and oversee him! ha. And now the BoS will likely expand the OIR and hire 5 more Stephen Connolly’s to hoodwink and rip off the taxpayers some more under the guise of ‘oversight’.
    “You had a cooperative Sheriff,” Spitzer said of the OIR model, “yet he (Connolly) didn’t bring any of these symptoms or signs to the attention of the board that could have telegraphed serious problems.”
    Come on, Todd. Cut it out. Hutchens wouldn’t even admit that the county jail informant embarrassment that received wide coverage in the national news was a scandal. And now she’s blaming the jail escape on the jail infrastructure when it’s crystal clear that those 3 inmates escaped due to incompetent sheriff personnel. And she’s trying to talk you into giving her millions more of our tax dollars for a jail remodel when you should call her out for her and her staff’s failed performance. And there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll give all the tax dollars she demands. You circle the wagons for her at any given opportunity. You need OCSD’s support to get your DA job.

  • Ed Romero

    he had give, he was finally arrested only because one of those boys came forward and advised his parents that he was taken to a Motel by that Probation Officer and molested. Then were was those Deputy Sheriff’s/Security Guards that according to my Office Manager “couldn’t keep their penises in their pants and their zippers up”. According to the former O C Sheriff it wasn’t the fault of his Deputies it was the “fault of those PROMISCUOUS TRAMPS at the Probation Department that couldn’t keep their panties up and their legs on the floor. I believe I made my point.

  • Ed Romero

    at making Criminal and Civil Case Disappear before they got to the DA. Then there was that Female Clerk that use to go CHRISTMAS SHOPPING night after night. Then was that Deputy Probation Officer that couldn’t get enough of those young Mexican boys and men, after receiving numerous complaints from Deputy Probation Officers I contacted his Supervisor and he advised me “we know what he’s doing and we are watching, 5 years later and who knows how HUMMERS

  • Ed Romero

    Everybody is acting like this is something new. While employed by the Orange County Probation Department, this Asst. Chief Probation Officer use to Smoke so much Marijuana while on duty that my co-workers gave her the AKA/Marijuana Nancy, I complained and complained and NO ONE would listen to me or do anything about it. She had her very own Gang of Drug Dealers, most of them Deputy Probation Officers, they would make Drug Deliveries right into her Office while on duty. That wasn’t the only Criminal Activity she was involved in, there was the Employee Wallet Stealing (I caught her and reported it and NOTHING WAS DONE ABOUT IT) there was the Probation Money Bag Thefts (again I caught her and reported it and again nothing was done about it), there was her Lesbian Cronyism, Lesbians being Hired and Promoted not because they were qualified but because they were Lesbians, including the one that stole $40,000’s from a Community Center for the Poor, another one that use to follow the young Female Employees into the Bathroom and drop to her knees and PEEK UNDER THE DOOR, she was promoted time and time again, today she is a Clerical Supervisor. Then there was the Deputy Probation Officer that was arrested 8 times for Drunk Driving and kept his job, I finally found out why, he was an EXPERT

  • RyanCantor

    “But independent oversight pisses off police unions.”

    Game. Set. Match.

  • Paul Lucas

    There has to be major changes such as the repeal of POBOR. You cite Sheriff Baca in LA County. Sheriff Hutchins came from that group. She was in top command positions. The layer of immunity granted to LEOs and DDAs incentivises corruption when combined with POBOR. Given that, we need to look into banning all LEOs from writing laws and pushing legislation. They are tasked with ENFORCING the law.Not writing and or administering the law.

  • David Zenger

    Norberto, you didn’t get the memo. “OIR” is alive and well – metastasizing, in fact – quadrupling in size as only the successful government agency can do. It has failed so spectacularly that it must be giganticized to make work properly.

    It is only Connolly that is gone