U.S. Attorney’s Office: Resignation Won’t Affect OC Jailhouse Snitch Investigation

The resignation of U.S. Attorney General Eileen Decker will not affect the Department of Justice’s investigation into the Orange County District Attorney’s office and Sheriff’s Department use of jailhouse informants, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Central District of California office in Los Angeles.

“The investigation is continuing,” said spokesman Thom Mrozek in a brief email statement. “The departure of the U.S. Attorney will not affect the investigation.”

Decker and 45 other U.S. attorneys  were asked by President Donald J. Trump to resign last week. It’s a procedure that has been followed by other presidents when they take office.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice announced in December they were opening a civil rights investigation into the years-long covert use of informants in county jails by the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s office. The informants provided information for use against defendants in criminal trials.  According to court testimony, the Sheriff’s and DA’s offices violated defendants’ constitutional rights by not disclosing that information to their attorneys.

In a speech in early March, Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a group of state attorneys general that he intends to “pull back” the Justice Department’s monitoring of police misconduct, according to the Orange County Register. 

The Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., which is conducting a joint investigation with the U.S. Attorney’s office, did not immediately respond to questions about whether that would apply to the department’s probe in Orange County.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has pledged to cooperate with the federal investigation.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens is expected to appear at an evidentiary hearing on March 30 in the case of Scott Evans Dekraai, a mass murderer responsible for a 2011 shooting at a Seal Beach nail salon that killed eight people. It was Dekraai’s public defender, Scott Sanders, who uncovered the use of jail house informants as well as evidence that favorable information was withheld from defense lawyers.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals has ordered the hearing to explore how Hutchens handled informant records and whether she withheld or destroyed evidence about the program.

Decker has been replaced by Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown, who previously occupied the number two position at the Los Angeles office, the largest Justice Department satellite office outside of Washington, D.C., according to a press release. It covers seven counties: Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

“We will continue our important work, which includes civil and tax litigation; defending the rights of both the government and its agents; and fighting national security threats, violent and organized crime, drug trafficking, hate crimes, financial fraud, public corruption, crimes against children, and the myriad of other threats to our public safety,” Brown said in a statement released Tuesday.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.