Grand Jury Report Details Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Favoritism Within DA Investigations Unit

OC District Attorney Tony Rackauckas speaks during a court hearing. (Pool photo by the Orange County Register.)

Sex between supervisors and subordinates, sexual harassment, and perceptions of a “good old boys club” that receives promotions and favorable treatment may contribute to a hostile work environment within the Orange County District Attorney’s investigations bureau, according to an Orange County Grand Jury report released Tuesday.

The report, which did not try to confirm individual complaints, found a widespread perception within the investigations bureau that promotions and favorable treatment goes to employees who are part of a certain social circle and as a result of sexual relationships with superiors.

Employees told the Grand jury about multiple instances of sexual images sent via text and email; inappropriate sexual and racist jokes; unwelcome sexual behavior and touching between management and subordinates and sexually explicit comments made by coworkers.

According to the report, employees said they didn’t report harassment to Human Resources because they believed they would face retaliation, thought the complaint would be reported to their harassers or that nothing would be done.

In a statement released Tuesday morning, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said his office takes the allegations seriously and that the agency has a personnel investigation that has been ongoing for the past seven months.

The DA’s office has also sent an email to its employees reminding them of county policies, according to the statement.

The Grand Jury, however, notes in their report that when asked by grand jurors about the complaints, OCDA management often passed them off “as either false or inaccurate with comments that likened the actors to kids in a candy story when they gained positions of power over female subordinates or the behavior was passed off as just chasing skirts.”

“In interviews with management in the OCDA office there often did not seem to be recognition of the severity of the alleged behavior but rather a discounting and dismissive “boys-will-be-boys” mentality,” the report reads.

The report follows the filing of three complaints against the county by former investigators, including chief investigator Craig Hunter and investigators Tom Conklin and Abraham Santos.

Hunter alleged that Rackauckas interfered with multiple political corruption investigations on behalf of political allies and that Senior Assistant District Attorney Jim Tanizaki – whose son now works for the DA’s office as a prosecutor – is having an affair with a subordinate employee.

Conklin and Santos made similar allegations of interference into investigations by senior DA officials and that they faced retaliation for whistleblowing.

The Grand Jury report also details a shift in the culture of the investigation bureau from a support unit to prepare prosecutors for trial to a “separate law enforcement agency.” Prompted by what they see as increased hostility toward police and fears that investigators themselves may be vulnerable, investigators are now trained in subduing suspects, use of force, firearms and risk management.

But that has also sowed some “tension in the office that has led to early retirement, relocation, and hard feelings by some investigators.”

The report also notes that investigators’ are frequently rotated to different assignments, often without regard to their previous experience.

“Many investigators we spoke with feel the wishes of employees are largely ignored, and the [grand jury] heard of incidents in which the employees believe they were rotated as a retaliatory response to a complaint or concern they voiced,” the report states.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer, a likely candidate for District Attorney next year, said in a news release “I am urging my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to adopt the Grand Jury’s recommendation that we appoint an outside, independent investigator to examine why the OCDA and the County Human Resources Services Department are not being used in reporting misconduct within the OCDA office.”

Spitzer said he will ask the supervisors to give the independent investigator subpoena power

The full Grand Jury report can be viewed online. 

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