OC Sheriff Gets Advisor to Act as ‘Insurance Policy’ Against Further Scandal

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens speaks to county supervisors in 2013. (Photo by Nick Gerda/Voice of OC)

Amid an ongoing scandal over misuse of jailhouse informants, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens received unanimous approval from county supervisors Tuesday to hire a “constitutional policing” advisor who would report directly to her.

The job, Hutchens said, will go to a law enforcement expert who will essentially act as an “insurance policy” for the county by proactively examining issues in the Sheriff’s Department that could lead to lawsuits. Her request comes on the heels of the resignation of Steve Connolly, the embattled director of the Office of Independent Review (OIR), which was created in 2008 after the jail beating death of John Chamberlain.

The U.S. Department of Justice began monitoring the county’s jails in response to Chamberlain’s death, and in spring 2014 it seemed to be close to wrapping up without legal action against the county.

But that all changed after the informants scandal made national headlines and supervisors announced plans to de-fund the OIR oversight office – a move they later reversed. In July, Justice Department officials said they would be keeping that jails investigation open as they monitor the informant allegations and the future of the OIR.

That federal scrutiny is a key reason for the new advisor job, Hutchens told supervisors Tuesday before the vote.

“I think it’s an important position, given that we still have the [Justice Department] still looking at our jails, and San Bernardino County was just sued by the Prison Law Office,” Hutchens said.

And though Hutchens didn’t mention the jailhouse informants scandal Tuesday, there have been many calls for increased scrutiny of the department and the district attorney’s office since revelations that sheriff’s deputies and DA prosecutors violated the rights of criminal defendants by not disclosing key evidence regarding informants to defense attorneys. A judge has also accused deputies of committing perjury, which they dispute.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he supported the position as part of a larger effort to increase oversight of local law enforcement. “I think the public has lost of lot of confidence in law enforcement,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer led his questioning Tuesday by asking the sheriff how she plans to recruit for the position.

Hutchens said she’d run an open recruitment, and wants an attorney who is a “police oversight specialist, preferably someone with civil rights experience.”

County insiders have hinted that Connolly, who has drawn harsh criticism from supervisors and others who feel his office has not lived up to its mission, might be Hutchens’ top choice for the new position. Connolly told the Orange County Register this week that he’s considering whether to apply for the job.

Hutchens said her new advisor wouldn’t be advising her on legal cases, but rather how to improve policies and procedures when it comes to deputy-involved shootings and other issues.

The cost impact of the position is estimated to be an extra $123,000 per year.

The growth of Hutchens’ executive ranks was also a subject of discussion on Tuesday, with Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett remarking that it “has really grown.”

Hutchens disputed Bartlett’s assertion, saying that in 2008 when she laid off many members of her command staff, “we were the thinnest” in executive staffing among other local law enforcement agencies, and that the same holds true today.

“I can compare again and show this board and show that we are still, in my estimation, very thin at the top,” she said, adding that the department’s exposure to lawsuits underscores the importance of strong oversight.

“I believe that management supervision is extremely important,” Hutchens said.

The sheriff’s deputies’ union criticized Hutchens for asking for focusing on a new manager before addressing management problems the union says may have contributed to the recent jail escape.

Three inmates, all of whom were accused of violent crimes, were able to break out of the sheriff’s Santa Ana jail complex in January and spend several days on the run. One escapee later turned himself in and the other two were caught in San Francisco after a homeless man recognized them and alerted police.

The union later sued, alleging that mismanagement and negligence by higher-ups may have contributed to the jailbreak.

“It is disappointing the Sheriff made adding another executive to her command staff a priority over correcting the unsafe staffing levels, unreliable radios and other unacceptable safety conditions which continue to persist at the Central Men’s Jail nearly two months after three inmates cut their way out of the jail facility and escaped,” said Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.

Hutchens’ spokesman declined to respond to the union’s statement.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. He can be reached at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • Debby Bodkin

    The approval of a new advisor, aka “insurance policy”, for OC Sheriff Hutchens will follow the same pattern as the OIR and Transportation Corridor Authorities. OIR was created after Chamberlain was beaten to death in the OC jail, inmates prosecuted, convicted and the public thinks all is well.

    Then, in 2013 the O.C. toll agency hired a new CEO and less than a year later, “Loophole let O.C. toll road agency keeps $220,000…”, was published in OC Register allegedly disclosing potential wrongdoing. The new CEO was terminated, took the hit, no criminal or civil sanctions filed by OC District Attorney, the terminated CEO kept thousands of dollars in payout monies and the Boards of Directors for the Foothill Eastern Transportation or San Joaquin Hills Transportation Agencies, and the agencies’ General Counsel, Nossman LLP, escaped all accountability for potential wrongdoing.

  • Debby Bodkin

    It appears this new “insurance policy, aka advisor” approved by the OC Board of Supervisors earlier this week was just in time for the release of the courthouse video posted on this website on 3-18-16. Hutchens, Rackauckas and the OC Board of Supervisors probably saw the video and knew they better figure out something fast to minimize damages after the DA investigator walked from an obvious felony assault. Every day in the OC brings another corruption crime–when will the feds put an end to it all?

  • LFOldTimer

    Does anyone think Hutchens is worth even 15% of what she’s paid?

  • LFOldTimer

    Since Connolly did such a bang-up job for 8 years now the supes are going to waste another boatload of county money to hire some other crony with another phony title. How much are we going to pay this clown? And the sheriff gets to pick him?? ha! “Constitutional Policing Advisor”? ha. Who makes this garbage up? That’s what we pay OCSD lawyers for!!! The jail escape has never been explained to the people. Who are the numbskulls who allowed them to escape? The best way to prevent future escapes is to fire the ones who allowed the last escape. You don’t need another hand-picked crony on staff to figure that out. Seriously, I feel like I’m living in Guadalajara. What the F happened to my country?

    • buzzookaman

      Greed ruined your country

    • David Zenger

      No, watch for it. The Sheriff is going to re-hire Connolly as an EMPLOYEE, where his salary and benefits will far surpass what we were paying him as a consultant. AND there will still be the new, improved and vastly expanded OIR brought to us by SpitzCo, Inc.
      You couldn’t make this stuff up even if you tried real hard.

      • OCservant_Leader

        You are right – again. Connolly did his job. He made sure nothing came to light. He will be rewarded with a fake job or he could even advise the “constitutional attorney” because this guy has a HUGE mortgage on his gated mansion and he needs at least 10 years in to pull the pension.

        Decisions are made which benefit the individuals in control. Period.

        Taxpayers – you will be cutting a check to this guy for the rest of his natural born life, and his beneficiaries lives….for ever.

      • LFOldTimer

        Oh, I agree that Connolly will experience a soft landing. Otherwise I doubt he would have resigned, assuming it was voluntary. My guess is that it was. If the county kept him on the payroll for 8 long years (w/ an extension) why would he be asked to leave now? The county has turned a blind eye to his failures for 8 years. Connolly did whatever the BoS allowed (or directed) him to do. He reported directly to the BoS who were his friends. And friends don’t leave friends high and dry.
        But I don’t think that even the county would allow Connolly to come back to work as the Sheriff’s ‘Constitutional Policy Advisor’. The county’s dirty. But I don’t think it’s reached that level of filth yet. But I concede I might be wrong. The county has been proven to surprise to the downside on more than one occasion. But if Connolly was rehired it would remove all facades. That would be blatant in-your-face “We really don’t give a ______ what you think. Whatcha going to do about it?”

  • Jacki Livingston

    Dear Sheriff Hutchens:
    If you don’t want scandal, then show some integrity and do your effing job. Stop letting people like Todd Spitzer use your own men as their personal guido squad, sending them out of their jurisdiction to go to a private citizen’s home and threaten and intimidate them because they speak out on this website. And, yes, madam, I do have proof of that…want to see it? You, yourself, were derelict in your duty when employees of the county came to you to report crimes, within the agencies, and that was not just me. Then, you let your deputies be used to strongarm employees? In short, Sheriff, you dropped the ball a loooooong time ago, and there have been numerous federal and state prosecutions on wrongdoing that YOU ignored. Bad Sheriff, no cookie.

    • LFOldTimer

      Not ‘cookie’. Donut.

      • Jacki Livingston

        Lol, I stand corrected.

  • Paul Lucas

    “The U.S. Department of Justice began monitoring the county’s jails in response to Chamberlain’s death, and in spring 2014 it seemed to be close to wrapping up without legal action against the county.”
    What exactly were they monitoring? since Chamberlain was murdered they’ve been watching them? And they saw and heard nothing? Im calling bullshit on that. Im gonna say outright that they just simply obfuscated their fiduciary duty and ignored the problems that no doubt was in their face the whole time.

  • Cynthia Ward

    The years of incestuous relationships between offices of the DA and Sheriff using informants and other violations of law have now put dangerous people back on the streets, when their cases were botched in the race to get a conviction at all costs. How these people are still employed is a bigger mystery than what lurks in Loch Ness. To now ask taxpayers to fund a six-figure position, NOT to clean up the safety of the public, inmates, or deputies in the jails, but to cover the backsides of higher-ups who have failed at their jobs, is infuriating! ALL OF THEM need to be GONE!! Grab the DA, the Sheriff, and the senior staffers who have been calling the shots from the top down, give them boxes to clean out their desks, and someone please escort them to their cars! I wanted to support Hutchens, it was time to show a woman could do the same job a man could do, but perpetuating the same corruption of the judicial system put in place by her predecessors was NOT what I had in mind!

    The rank and file staff who deal with day to day issues in the jails have identified changes that need to be made, and they are ignored. The Sheriff’s department is blessed with many hard working professionals who want to do their jobs and are being denied the tools needed to protect themselves and each other, protect us from these jail-breaking dirtbags and/or protect inmates from being targeted for sick vigilante justice in a jail cell. We ask them to deal with the worst of humanity, packed tight into an environment not intended for rehabilitation, that lets evil fester and multiply. We now have to admit we cannot protect the staff from these thugs, as any tool snuck into the jail able to get through metal bars, grates, and grilles, is potentially deadly to the Deputy escorting a scofflaw to a meal hall. But we equally require them to endure this work environment without becoming so hardened and hair trigger suspicious that they shoot first and ask questions later once out of the jail rotation and on the streets. Well there’s a recipe for success….

    We have failed to install video cameras in the key areas of jail that might have noticed 3 inmates escaping, while their capture was largely attributed to VIDEO CAMERAS in the civilian world. It is more important for “loss prevention” at Target to video tape suspicious patrons in the store than for the Sheriff to video her own inmates? A homeless guy in Northern California readily identified escaped cons, but Hutchens’ oversight failed to notice inmates cutting through multiple layers of metal barriers. And creating a rope from bed sheets is such an easy and discreet activity, right? How does one go about that, perhaps during “craft time” in the afternoon? Inmate A gets pipe cleaners and construction paper (if he behaves for another week they will give him some glue sticks) Inmate B gets leftover plastic containers and a pass to the jail kitchen to make “shrinky dinks” in the oven, (he has some good behavior points) and Inmate C is braiding bed sheets in the corner?

    How many sheets have to be used to get off a roof HOW HIGH UP? That is a LOT of bed sheets to go missing from County stockpiles. Even if the department failed to inventory sheets in prevention of potential escape, if inmates were merely tearing them up for the fun of it for costumes in some odd jailhouse holiday masquerade party, (come as your favorite mummy?) taxpayers have to replace those supplies that the Sheriff does not seem to count and monitor. An Edwardian era housekeeper does a better job tracking the linens at a country estate, with only the upstairs maids and some wash-women to ensure bedding is accounted for and rotated regularly for even wear. Can we not expect a better accounting of publicly funded supplies by our modern day law enforcement professionals, with access to bar code readers for items issued and taken back in, than we might expect at Downton Abbey with a ledger book, fountain pen and inkwell?

    It looks like the LAST thing we need is another 6 figure executive REPORTING TO THE SHERIFF! We need a TRULY INDEPENDENT office of review able to audit every nickel spent, and NOT answer to the Sheriff. Or a Commission of citizens, everyday Joe and Jane types, recognizing they will never be granted subpoena power thanks to POBR, but they can review spending, basic admin policies, and common sense policies regarding oversight of inmates, and perhaps send them to portions of Academy training to get background on law enforcement’s specialized knowledge base, which even the least informed of us recognizes we don’t understand fully unless we are in their shoes and doing their jobs.

    The complete breakdown of common sense and accountability is clearly beyond a few one-time incidents, this is systemic failure, from the top down. To hire a LAWYER in CYA mode before attempting to fix the problems noted by boots on the ground staff appears self-serving beyond description. I cannot recall the County Supes denying the Sheriff anything she has asked for, (might be wrong) but law enforcement is always the last thing cut and the first budget restored, and we need to see executive leadership doing more than saving their own hides (and pensions) when running the department our taxes fund! Sheriff Hutchens, I was pulling for you, but you need to work a LOT harder to restore public confidence in the integrity of your leadership. When you hit a pedestrian you call for medical help and ensure the well being of the one you harmed before you call your lawyer to protect you from the consequences of even an accidental act! In this case she asks us to PAY FOR the lawyer she is calling in before fixing what is broken.

    OC’s new motto needs to be, “Have we had enough yet?”

    • OCservant_Leader

      The politicians are rigging the voters box and then appointing their crew to protect themselves.

      This is all about personal greed combined with power = corruption.

      The fish rots from the head.

  • Philmore

    Shouldn’t Hutchens salary be pro-rated, if subcontracting out areas of HER JOB RESPONSIBILITY is necessary? Would you or I get this courtesy expense at OUR jobs, taxes from which HER SALARY is paid? Oh, I forgot, we work in organizations that depend on management ABILITY, not a bottomless REVENUE SOURCE, to survive. Silly me.

  • Debby Bodkin

    Interesting. Can this “person”, aka “insurance policy”, be sued for professional negligence? If so, this would be a perfect way for OC Sheriff Hutchens to relieve herself from all liability and wrongdoing and/or RICO crimes, since IMO, she knows more about the cover ups involving the beating death of John Derek Chamberlain — not publicly disclosed as of today’s date.

    It is also my personal opinion that Stephen Connolly needs to run for the hills and save his career since it is now obvious that OC Board of Supervisor Todd Spitzer and Sheriff Hutchens wanted him to take the hit for any “alleged” failures of the OIR. Most likely, the OIR did not fail, but any ethical OC Supervisor and Hutchens needed to keep certain things SECRET. Hopefully, before Mr. Connolly leaves the OIR, he will set the OC Sheriff’s Department’s legal representation in courts of law on a legal and ethical course. The OC Sheriff’s Department’s defense counsel, with the approval of the OC Board of Supervisors, should not be allowed to simultaneously represent clients with potential adverse interests…. i.e., the Catholic Diocese of Orange, public school districts, County of Orange.

    After all, would a parent want to report violations of the Gun Free Schools Act on a Diocese of Orange Catholic school campus to the OC Sheriff’s Department, knowing that the OC Sheriff’s Department and the Diocese of Orange simultaneously SHARE the same defense attorneys in courts of law? Unless of course, the Catholic Diocese of Orange, OC Sheriff’s Department, OC Board of Supervisors and County of Orange have an attorneys’ fee sharing and/or quid pro quo, for-profit agreement. This is a public safety crisis and a serious concern that requires federal intervention.

    • OCservant_Leader

      Yes, they are corrupt. Yes, they protect each other.

      Mr Connelly’s exit was planned when he was hired.

      He would (upon unforeseen event) “recede from public view – but stay on payroll until his 10th anniversary”.

      Whatever his deal- he wins.

      These moves are planned out way in advance by the hoards of EA appointees who work on these “events” while they are (choke) public servants collecting a pension themselves.

      • Debby Bodkin

        I hope you are correct about Mr. Connolly’s exit being pre-planned 10 years after the OC Board of Supervisors created the County OIR, in response to the beating death of OC jail inmate John Derek Chamberlain on October 5, 2006. This would prove that County of Orange government officials are running a criminal RICO enterprise.

        Many have suspected Orange County was the breeding ground for RICO crimes for many years, but the crimes are continuing while Carona served his time in federal prison. The powers in charge LOVED blaming Carona for OC corruption crimes, his personal attorney, political advisor and large donors, BUT, in actuality, Carona took the hit for the real RICO participants.

  • RyanCantor

    “The job, Hutchens said, will go to a law enforcement expert who will essentially act as an ‘insurance policy’ for the county by proactively examining issues in the Sheriff’s Department that could lead to lawsuits.”

    That’s funny. I thought that was the Sheriff’s job. Or perhaps the District Attorney . . .

    Good to know that it’s not.

    • David Zenger

      Yep, another move to dilute accountability. And we have to pay for this as well as for the failed, yet miraculously metastacized OIR.