OC Sheriff Could Be Required to Testify on Jailhouse Informants

Jeff Antenore for Voice of OC

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens addresses county supervisors at May 9, 2017 board meeting.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens could be called to testify in a hearing later this month, which will explore whether her department attempted to cover up a jailhouse informants program by intentionally destroying or withholding key discovery documents related to the case of mass murderer Scott Evans Dekraai.

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders is requesting Hutchens and 31 other Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s office officials be called as witnesses at the May 23 hearing, which is part of the penalty phase of Dekraai’s trial to determine whether he should receive a life sentence or the death penalty for fatally shooting eight people at a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011.

Over the past few years the murder trial has also become a case study into how the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s office used jailhouse informants to elicit confessions from criminal defendants, without the knowledge of the defendants or their attorneys.

The “jailhouse snitch scandal” has sparked investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, California Attorney General and Orange County Grand Jury. Sanders has argued the violation of his client’s rights is so egregious he should be spared the death sentence and be sentence to life in prison.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals has for months expressed frustration with the pace at which Hutchens’ department has produced discovery documents related to the informants program, at one point threatening to hold her in contempt of court.

Sanders has alleged in lengthy court briefs that the Sheriff’s Department shredded documents and changed a policy on records retention to allow it to destroy records about jailhouse informants.

He also alleges Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner, a former prosecutor on the case, intentionally delayed releasing records from the special handling log at Theo Lacy Jail to avoid tipping off Sanders to contradictions in testimony by two deputies that would help him in another case.

Now Goethals wants attorneys to address these and other accusations at a May 23 evidentiary hearing.

The Sheriff's Department, meanwhile, has claimed that no jailhouse informants program exists. Sanders wants to ask Hutchens how she reached that conclusion.

Sanders' request to question Hutchens and other officials under oath is still subject to approval by the judge.

When reached for a comment, Lieutenant Lane Lagaret, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department, said Hutchens will not be commenting on “anything Scott Sanders writes or anything to do with Dekraai” because she doesn’t want her words misconstrued.

The last evidentiary hearing Goethals ordered lasted more than four months.

A full list of the witnesses he wants to call is below:

  • Commander William Baker
  • Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh
  • Sergeant Bill Beeman
  • Sergeant Brent Benson
  • Deputy Zachary Bieker
  • Commander Jon Briggs
  • Sergeant Michael Few
  • Deputy C. Foster
  • District Attorney Investigator Mark Gutierrez
  • Lieutenant Brent Guidice
  • CAG Investigator Fernando Huerta
  • Sheriff Sandra Hutchens
  • Deputy Jonathan Larson
  • Sergeant Kirsten Monteleone
  • Carol Ann Morris
  • Deputy Ben Garcia
  • Deputy Bill Grover
  • Former Assistant Sheriff Michael James
  • Lieutenant Dave Johnson
  • Sergeant Lane Lagaret
  • Lieutenant Michael McHenry
  • Deputy County Counsel Elizabeth Pejeau
  • Investigator Anton Pereyra
  • Commander Adam Powell
  • Sergeant Mark Peters
  • Sergeant Marty Ramirez
  • Lieutenant Mark  Stichter
  • Lieutenant Andy Stephens
  • Retired Sergeant Gary Tinoco
  • Assistant Custodian of Inmate Records, Orange County Jail, Pam Walker
  • Assistant District Attorney Daniel Wagner
  • Deputy Logan Walker
  • Sergeant Raymond Wert

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