The following is a story by Inside OC, a Voice of OC broadcast media partner covering Orange County newsmakers.
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens says she has responded well to breast cancer treatments and expects to seek reelection in 2018.
“I have a deeper appreciation for life and what's important now, so it's been kind of a gift,” she said on the public affairs show “Inside OC with Rick Reiff.”
Hutchens, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's division chief, was appointed to her current post in 2008 after scandals that sent former Sheriff Mike Carona to prison. Though politically popular – she's twice breezed to election wins – Hutchens has recently been dealing with jail controversies over informants and a Jan. 22 prisoner escape. She addressed those issues and more in a wide-ranging interview now airing on PBS SoCal and Cox3, and also on YouTube.
Hutchens said, “I expect that there will be” disciplinary action resulting from her “top ranks to bottom” internal investigation of the Santa Ana jail break that touched off a harrowing week-long search and capture of three dangerous fugitives. Hutchens said she was stunned that the escape wasn't discovered for 16 hours, but it was too early to pinpoint culprits: “Who did what? Did anybody fail to follow procedures? Were the procedures wrong? We're just going to look at everything.”
Hutchens said she is “hardening” security but added, “At some point we're going to have to replace that facility.” She said the 48-year-old jail was designed to handle mostly misdemeanor offenders but now houses mostly felons.
Hutchens said she “would anticipate something in the near future” from the state attorney general on the jail informant controversy that has plagued the county DA's office and her department and resulted in overturned verdicts. Hutchens, interviewed on April 15, said AG investigators have been questioning county counsel, deputies and members of her command staff, but not her directly.
Hutchens said she has already made changes in how her department deals with informants, but said the problem “has been completely blown out of proportion by the defense bar” and been handled “a bit” sensationally by the media: “Snitch tank sounds pretty exciting.”
She defended two of her deputies against a ruling by Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals that they had lied to or misled defense attorneys, saying they had simply testified to their understanding of a prisoner tracking system.
Hutchens said protests across the country over alleged police brutality and repeated airings of videos that she said often show only parts of confrontations have created false impressions of law enforcement and hurt officer morale: “I've never met a cop that said, 'Hey, today I want to go out and be involved in a shooting with somebody.' It just doesn't happen. We react to behavior.”
Hutchens gave an insider's view of the Los Angeles County jail corruption case that has resulted in the conviction of deputies, former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca and his former top aide Paul Tanaka.
Hutchens said her former boss Baca “did a lot of good things” but had “a blind spot” when it came to Tanaka.
“I left the department about three years sooner than I would have because of Mr. Tanaka and his influence, his negative influence,” she said. “I saw the wrong people getting promoted the right people not getting promoted and I talked to Lee, as many did, about that.”
The interview is the second of two parts.
In the first part, which aired last week, Hutchens discussed homeland security, the rising crime rate and being a female role model. That show is also on YouTube. YouTube also features “Open Mic” segments of Inside OC. In those, Hutchens discusses gangs, human trafficking and the firing of bad deputies.
All show times are listed at www.rickreiff.com.