ACLU: Sheriff and DA Must Tell the Truth On Jail Abuse Scandal

The Orange County criminal justice system is awash in scandal.

A committee of legal experts established by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has called the office “a ship without a rudder” staffed by too many prosecutors who believe in winning at all costs.

Nearly a year ago, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals issued an extraordinary order removing the entire district attorney’s office from the prosecution of Scott Dekraai, who admitted to shooting eight people to death in a Seal Beach salon in 2011.

Revelations in that case and others have since made it clear that the County Sheriff’s Department has been systematically placing criminal defendants in cells with or near jailhouse informants. Those informants then elicited incriminating information in violation of the defendants’ rights.

Sheriff’s deputies later lied about the existence of records related to the informants’ reliability while testifying in court. Prosecutors have been hiding critical evidence of the illegal program and other exculpatory evidence from defendants and their attorneys in violation of the U.S. Constitution for at least 25 years.

Long concealed documents recently surfaced, revealing that deputy district attorneys were actually instructed by their superiors not to disclose to defense attorneys evidence that an informant was provided compensation.

Yet, despite evidence on the record, Rackauckas and Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens continue to deny the existence of the informant program in the jails or the intentional unlawful withholding of evidence by prosecutors.

At an Orange County Register forum this week, both claimed that any constitutional violations were “negligent.”

They would have us believe that the solution is more training and to move forward.

This is not enough.

We cannot allow Rackauckas and Hutchens to sweep 30 years of lying and deception under the rug.

Without understanding the full scope of the problem, it is impossible to craft a solution.

That is why today the ACLU of Southern California sent Public Records Act requests to Rackauckas’ and Hutchens’ offices.

To read both public records requests, click here.

We are asking them to release vital information to help shed light on the extent to which the justice system has been undermined over the last three decades. Only then can we begin to look for solutions to prevent such miscarriages of justice from recurring.

Both the district attorney and the sheriff’s offices have a long way to go to restore the public’s confidence.

They must begin by admitting that a problem exists.

They must then open up their records so the public can know how many people were denied a fair trial over the past three decades, how many Sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors lied or withheld evidence, and what policies and structures allowed such abuse to occur.

Now is the time for them to show they are committed to the rule of law and the fair administration of justice.

The district attorney and sheriff must commit themselves to increased transparency and oversight. They must release these records so that this process can begin. No less is at stake than the public’s faith in the integrity of the criminal justice system.

Caitlin Sanderson and Brendan Hamme are staff attorneys in the ACLU of Southern California’s Orange County office.

  • Bob Stevens

    The ACLU, prostituting the constitution for profit since 1923. The fact they claim they are non-profit is a joke. Now I hope the DA’s office charges the KKK guys and let’s see where the ACLU is then.

  • OCservant_Leader

    I applaud your efforts but it appears the Sheriff has tied herself to the DA’s anchor and will share his same fate.

    Their defense case they are building is based on “negligence”which says “we didn’t commit a crime because we are actually just stupid and didn’t know the law”. This is a real defense because public employees are immune to accountability.

    But lying under oath is a crime and only if they subpoenaed to testify will the public find out what they know.

    I’m afraid your record’s request will come up empty as any “smoking gun” written record has already been shredded by the cleaning squad.

    Public records law hasn’t caught up to technology which has allowed Organized Crime to flourish in government by their ability to communicate in secret networks.

    • LFOldTimer

      Yeah, it sucks. The leaders we pay in county government to have the most integrity actually have the least. They’ve created 2 sets of laws….one for themselves and one for everyone else. And that attitude filters down to the rank and file. What makes it even worse is that the ones we elect to other county positions of authority who are supposed to call the rotten ones out remain silent which illustrates their complicity. Of course all feign to be patriots. Their values are about as anti-American as one could image. All phonies.

      • OCservant_Leader

        You are right.

        The Bureaucrats justify (hiring EAs, looking the other way while they work on campaigns, and falsifying any/all records/reports to fit political goals) due to:

        Old fashioned greed.

        If you talk to them they will tell you how much passion they have for “their” family. They are disconnected to the people they are supposed to “serve”.

        They justify unethical acts as it shows how deeply committed they are to continuing “their” lifestyle – their homes & cars are most important. Then they go to church on Sunday and put a dollar in the collection plate and feel vindicated.

        Corruption is fueled by greed. If they have to dirty their hands with the BOS directives, then they feel justified in running public sector organized crime. They keep in tight little groups to protect and defend themselves.

        You can find these people on the “OC Top 10” of largest pensions and biggest payouts. It’s not easy to pull off being the most well traveled AND claim to never take a vacation. They feel they earned it.

        • LFOldTimer

          It goes deeper than corrupted greed, OC Servant. It’s blatant contempt for the American values that most of us were raised on in my generation and in the generations of those who sit on the Board. They’re not just selling the county out. They’re selling the country out while feigning patriotism. IMO they’re electeds who are anti-American and accelerating the decline of our empire. As we all know, the fish rots at the head first.

          • OCservant_Leader

            I agree with you but you are assuming they share your view on what it means to be an American.

            Honesty, personal morals and ethics, and hard work? Nope. Lie, cheat and steal? Yes.

            They ARE feigning “patriotism” and the words “public service”.

            But I am also referring to the organized crime network that is control in OC County government, Not the majority of rank and file who ARE public servants and are victims of the corruption just as the taxpayers are.

          • Jacki Livingston

            They have disgraced public service, and put it on the same page as prostitution. Thank you for putting the truth into words, because what is going on in OC IS organized crime, and it goes beyond the county line. The feds let them get away with it, because it isn’t profitable for them to break it up. The rotten orange is horrible. I lost everything, because I was naive enough to believe that someone at the top would do something about it. I was so stupid and so wrong. There is only one solution for this infestation…turn the lights on, and block the cockroaches from getting away.

  • LFOldTimer

    Yes, it’s very sad. The ones who run our justice system in OC are bigger liars than the common thieves and thugs that they house inside the jails. It’s called the decline of an empire. And I believe we’ve gone beyond the point of no return. It would take some huge event to turn it around now. The intelligensia and our leaders have lost their conscience and moral code. Don’t expect a revival. We have most of the moral markings of a 3rd world banana republic. It’s been a painful 20 years as the slope of the decline has accelerated. I hardly recognize my country anymore.

  • Paul Lucas

    I am happy to see this but I cant help but cringe at the aspect of asking the DA and the Sheriff to come clean. I would instead TELL them to come clean and tell us all we ask for. I would also suggest the solicitation of Mike Carona to tell us what he knows and has known in an attempt to reclaim any amount of dignity he can hope for. And finally, I ask all OC residents that live in Loretta Sanchez’ Congressional District to please vote for Joe Dunn. The pother competitor in that race has been endorsed by north the DA and the Sheriff as well as their rank and file members unions.