The man in charge of criminal investigations for the Orange County District Attorney’s office suddenly left his job Monday, but a DA’s spokeswoman said state personnel laws prohibit the office from saying why.
“Effective immediately, Craig Hunter is off duty and not expected to return,” District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced to his staff in an email Monday morning.
Hunter’s second-in-command, Assistant Chief Lou Gutierrez, “is currently on a leave of absence,” Rackauckas added.
“Due to the protection afforded by the Police Officers Bill of Rights and the laws protecting personnel matters, the OCDA is prohibited from discussing the facts surrounding the employment status of its employees,” spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden wrote in a statement.
Hunter and Gutierrez couldn’t be reached for comment.
But Van Der Linden’s statement indicated the “action” taken involving Hunter and Gutierrez happened quickly.
“The OCDA will continue to take swift and appropriate action to maintain the excellent work done on a daily basis by the Bureau of Investigation, which is nationally recognized in many areas including gang prosecution, Human Exploitation And Trafficking, and DNA investigations,” she wrote in her statement.
The DA investigators’ union also wrote in a letter Monday that “actions” were “taken against” Hunter and Gutierrez earlier that day.
In his email to staff, Rackauckas said “given this situation, I have asked Commander Ron Seman to step into the role of Lead Commander and keep me actively informed and up-to-date on the activities of the Bureau [of Investigations].”
“As of this morning, I am beginning a nationwide search to fill the important position of Chief of the Bureau, which I anticipate will take some time,” the DA wrote.
In his letter Monday to Rackauckas, an attorney for the DA investigators’ union said the District Attorney’s office recently ordered the investigators to attend an “information gathering interview” that could be connected to Hunter and Gutierrez’s departure.
“Amazingly, our members were informed that as witnesses, they are not entitled to representation during this interrogation,” wrote Adam E. Chaikin, the attorney for the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.
The letter didn’t say what issue the District Attorney’s office wanted to interview the investigators about, but said it was “possible” the subject was related to Monday’s “action” against Hunter and Gutierrez.
The letter cited state law giving law enforcement officers, including the investigators, a right to have representation with them during interviews that are likely to lead to “punitive action” against the officer.
The union’s letter also says some of the DA investigators “may have testified to the Grand Jury,” and warned Rackauckas that the investigators should not be asked about their testimony because revealing anything about the grand jury’s subject matter is illegal.
“Compelling a member to disclose that the member attended the Grand Jury proceeding is entirely improper as it would force the member to engage in an act of contempt of court,” the letter states.
“Further, such questions could arguably be viewed as coercion and/or intimidation of a Grand Jury witness, thereby interfering with and/or obstructing the Grand Jury process.”
The letter doesn’t say what the grand jury’s subject matter may have been. The county grand jury is known to be investigating the ongoing jailhouse informants scandal, which involves allegations of illegal actions by both the DA’s office and Sheriff’s Department.
The Bureau of Investigations, which Hunter led, has a staff of 242 employees who help prosecutors prepare criminal cases, including 146 sworn investigators, according to the DA’s office.
After retiring from the Anaheim Police Department in 2012, Hunter received a substantial annual pension in addition to his District Attorney salary, according to payroll data posted by the website Transparent California.
In 2015, the most recent year available, Hunter received over $180,000 in pension payments as well as $304,000 in salary and benefits from the District Attorney’s office, according to the website. It adds up to $484,000 in total compensation that year.
That same year, Hunter sparked controversy when it was revealed that he tried to outsource part of his DA staff’s work to a longtime colleague from his time at the Anaheim Police Department, and that Hunter didn’t disclose his connection to the contractor in his recommendation.
During his career, Gutierrez has handled numerous sex crime cases, including sexual assaults.
In 2004, he was credited with helping extract a confession in a cold-case 1983 murder of a prostitute in Laguna Beach.
Two years ago, Hunter was the subject of allegations that he sent and received sexual text messages – including nude photos – using his county-owned cell phone.
On April 8, 2015, attorney David Gernsbacher laid out the claims in an email to Hunter’s wife, and included Rackauckas and the county Board of Supervisors, according to a copy of the email obtained by Voice of OC.
“I am writing to let you know that your husband and Chief Investigator of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Craig Hunter, recently had a sexual relationship – in the form of sex texts, nude photographs and telephone calls – all of which he and his friend…solicited from my now fiancée,” Gernsbacher wrote.
“…all of these sex texts and lewd naked pictures were received and transmitted using Craig’s county supplied and/or paid cell phone, clearly in violation of county and (one would hope) the Orange County District Attorney’s policy),” Gernsbacher added. Many of the messages took place during business hours, he said.
In an interview, county Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he spoke with Hunter about the allegations after they came to his attention.
“I called the attorney who wrote the complaint and confirmed that it was legitimate. And I called Craig Hunter and I confronted Craig Hunter about it,” said Spitzer, a political adversary of Rackauckas’ who is widely expected to run for district attorney next year.
“When I confronted him about what the allegations were, he did not deny [it]. And I was surprised,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer said he turned Gernsbacher’s complaint over to the county’s attorneys, who then turned it over to Rackauckas’ office.
The results of any internal investigation into the sexting allegations have not been made public.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.