OC Grand Jury Wants Jailhouse Informant Hearing to Stop, Saying There’s No Widespread Violations

Jeff Antenore, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

Orange County Grand Jury Foreperson Carrie Carmody delivers the findings and recommendations resulting from a year-long investigation into the use of jailhouse informants during a press conference at the Santa Ana Police Department on Tuesday morning, June 13, 2017.

Orange County’s civil grand jury said Tuesday an ongoing court hearing about possible misuse of jailhouse informants and withholding of evidence has turned into a “witch-hunt,” and should stop after the grand jury determined there is no “systemic, widespread informant program.”

In its report, titled “The Myth of the Orange County Jailhouse Informant Program,” the grand jury called for an end to Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals’ ongoing evidence hearing, in which the judge is deciding whether he can trust the Sheriff’s Department to turn over all the material he has ordered as part of the court’s discovery process.

“The current search to get to the bottom of potential discovery violations in the Dekraai case has devolved into a witch-hunt for agency corruption; a search that after 5 years and more than 40,000 pages of court documents remains fruitless,” the grand jury wrote.

“Any further investigation of potential widespread, systemic institutional wrongdoing surrounding discovery or informant issues in Orange County would be far more appropriately addressed by [the ongoing state Attorney General and U.S. Justice Department investigations] and not by the trial court for the largest confessed mass murderer in Orange County history.”

The grand jury blamed any wrongdoing involving jailhouse informants on “a few rogue deputies who got carried away with efforts to be crime-fighters,” and unnamed District Attorney officials who didn’t didn’t pay attention to disclosure issues.

(Click here to read the grand jury report.)

The findings are starkly different from what an appeals court ruled in November. That unanimous decision found “systemic problems” with informants and evidence disclosure at the Sheriff’s Department and DA’s office and said Goethals had conducted  “a search for the truth” that revealed “evidence regarding improper conduct by the prosecution team.”

Both the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s office issued statements Tuesday saying the grand jury report vindicates what they’ve long been saying about the informants.

“The report validates many past statements made by Sheriff Sandra Hutchens regarding the use of jailhouse informants and confirms a departmentally sanctioned program does not exist,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

The DA’s office said the grand jury report confirmed the DA’s “steadfast position” and “debunked the media ‘witch-hunt’ for agency corruption.”

Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, said in a statement, “what’s important to us….is the deputy sheriffs who were involved in this case were characterized as not being properly trained, didn’t understand fully the breadth and scope of what they were doing.

“We’ve been saying that all along. I have to give credit to Sheriff Hutchens [who has been saying] that in fact they did not receive the training that they should have.”

During the hearing in Goethals’ courtroom, six sheriff’s officials have pled their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, rather than answer questions. Some have been granted immunity by the state Attorney General’s office in order to get them to testify.

The hearing came after an appeals court in November upheld Goethals’ ruling kicking the DA’s office off prosecuting the largest mass murder case in Orange County history, that of Scott Evans Dekraai, who confessed to shooting and killing eight people in Seal Beach in 2011.

“Not only did the [Orange County District Attorney’s Office] intentionally or negligently ignore the [Sheriff’s Department’s] violations of targeted defendants’ constitutional rights, but the OCDA on its own violated targeted defendants’ constitutional rights through its participation in the [confidential informants] program,” the appellate ruling states.

The grand jury report does not discuss the appeals court’s findings. The grand jurors provided a long list of documents they examined, saying they total more than 40,000 pages, but the appellate decision isn’t included in the list.

The informant disclosures in the Dekraai case have led to convictions being overturned for murder or other major crimes in six other criminal cases. In one of those cases, that of accused killer Isaac Palacios, one murder charge was dismissed, and in a second murder charge the DA agreed to a plea deal that granted him probation.

Scott Sanders, the public defender who has led the effort to uncover potential informant misconduct, said the grand jury was mistaken in focusing on whether there was a formal informants program.

“When you hide evidence in jails you usually don’t create an official program,” Sanders told reporters Tuesday.

Additionally, he said the grand jurors “never closely examined allegations of long term informant evidence concealment.”

Six months into their probe, Sanders said, he was interviewed by the grand jury and expected to be asked detailed questions by jurors. “But such questioning never took place,” he said in a written statement.

Sanders said that when he wanted to go into detail about cases with the grand jury, “the questions were, ‘Do you hate prosecutors?’ ’Is there any prosecutor you like?’ ”

“We never had a deep dive into the facts. I knew from that meeting that it was kind of written in stone.”

In its findings, the grand jury described the informants situation as simply a misunderstanding on the part of a few “rogue deputies” who got too eager to be crime fighters and lacked knowledge of their requirements to disclose evidence to defendants.

“A handful of special handling deputies drifted from their custodial duties, over a period of years, into investigating crimes. The lack of proper supervision and appropriate policies allowed this to continue longer than it should have,” the grand jury wrote.

“This drift does not constitute [a Sheriff’s Department] jailhouse informant program, but rather the work of a few rogue deputies who got carried away with efforts to be crime-fighters.”

The grand jury found that in most jailhouse informant cases they reviewed, sheriff’s deputies were targeting informants in a legal way, by seeking information from defendants about separate possible crimes from the ones they had been charged with.

The grand jury said that approach is legal under the Illinois v. Perkins decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The grand jury also took issue with the findings of a panel of experts Rackauckas commissioned to review the DA’s use of informants, known as Informant Policies & Practices Evaluation Committee (IPPEC).

That committee found what it described as a problematic “win at all costs mentality” at the DA’s office, and that “a lack of leadership” there “appears to have contributed to the jailhouse informant controversy.”

The grand jury said the committee’s conclusion about a cultural problem was made “rather tenuously” because the committee’s interviews were “primarily limited to lower level staff.”

At the same time, the grand jury did find that the DA’s office continues to suffer from leadership problems after the office disregarded recommendations from a 2002 grand jury report.

“After nearly 100 interviews with OCDA personnel, it became clear to the [current grand jury] that lack of leadership persists,” the report states.

The way the DA’s office has been structured, it wrote, creates an environment in which “abuses are seldom caught and prosecutors have almost unlimited autonomy to prosecute cases as they deem fit.”

The grand jury attributed the DA’s evidence disclosure issues to “high caseloads,” “communication breakdowns” with outside agencies, and “an inexcusable inattention” to disclosure issues “by a few individuals.”

“These errors do not indicate a system of abuse, but rather a lack of supervision and laziness in the practice of law,” the grand jury wrote.

The grand jury also called on the county Board of Supervisors to cancel the contract for an independent monitor of the DA’s office that the IPPEC committee had recommended, calling it “a waste of County money.”

Voice of OC reporter Thy Vo contributed to this story. Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • Daniel Lamb

    ??????? sorry, but cmon, really? lol

    • Daniel Lamb

      Golly gosh, we have a heck of a legal system.

  • Paul Lucas

    The members of the grand jury need to be recalled.

  • OCservant_Leader

    OC Grand Jury must AMEND their report title! TAKE OUT THE WORD MYTH!!!

    It’s a bold-faced-lie.

    There is NO MYTH!

    Thank you Sheriff Iron’s for revealing the truth.

    Vof OC can you circle back with the good people of the OC Grand Jury and get a comment in light of the testimony that contradicted their entire report within 24 hours?

    So the taxpayers paid $400K for a PR Spin Tale? This is crazy!

  • verifiedsane

    New testimony appears to contradict O.C. Grand Jury report on jailhouse informants – http://www.ocregister.com/2017/06/14/new-testimony-appears-to-contradict-o-c-grand-jury-report-on-jailhouse-informants/ – that’s some laughable deep state investigation conducted by the GJ….

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  • astar2b

    We need DA Kang to take over…!

    • Charlotte Banks

      From the frying pan to the fire. No thanks.

    • verifiedsane

      signed: with love & kisses, Tony

    • OCservant_Leader

      DA CoS – Susan Kang-Schroeder…Shut it!

  • OCservant_Leader

    The OC Family of Corruption has pulled off another scam!

    This “report” (laughable PR piece) is proof of the collusion in OC Government. Notice how the BOS and DA and Sheriff were all in sync with their messaging BEFORE the report was concluded!

    When I read that the BOS gave the GR $400K — I knew then that they bought the outcome.

    The DA and Family handpicked this GJ – trust me they are all connected. I agree with Old Timer: there have been past GJ who uncovered corruption but the Family stopped that.

    If anything…this crazy report should make the citizens even more concerned about this criminal family running OC.

  • Greg Diamond

    This truly is among the most outrageous things that I’ve ever seen happen in Orange County.

    Who is the attorney retained to advise this grand jury — and to whom does he or she answer? And what exactly did he or she believe that job to be?

    Maybe *next* year’s civil grand jury can investigate such matters. Or, better yet, maybe a federal one can.

  • LFOldTimer
    • verifiedsane

      This sure has the appearance of orchestrated political theater…Now we must ask the question of how far & deep does OC’s shadow government go with it’s nepotistic reach?

      • LFOldTimer

        None of these county ‘public servants’ on the taxpayer funded payroll can be trusted. I assume all of them are dirty until they prove otherwise. Goethals and Sanders are the only trustworthy ones as far as I can see. Until one of the insiders steps forward and tells the truth all of them are dirty.

    • OCservant_Leader

      Carmody – needs to be investigated – she is a liar.

      What I want to know is – HOW is this woman connected to the Family? This is the REAL story.

      • LFOldTimer

        Oh yes. There has to be a BIG BIG story there under the surface. Hopefully Moxley is investigating it as we type. Based on ALL THE CONTRADICTORY EVIDENCE AND RULINGS BY THE HIGH COURTS AND TESTIMONY BY FORMER LIEUTENANT IRONS – Dr. Comedy stands by her position that the OCGJ report was above board and that the scandal only involved a couple rouge cops!!! LOL!!!

        Dr. Comedy needs to be investigated. You’re absolutely right. She’s part of the swamp no doubt. Moxley needs to drain the swamp so we can find out which bottom-feeders manipulated this illegal informant investigation and WHY!

  • Debby Bodkin

    How can the OC Grand Jury issue a report when the CA Appellate Court ruling of 3 Justices was not included in the docs reviewed? The OC Grand Jury Forewoman is suffering from delusions of grandeur along with DA Rackauckas, Chief of Staff Kang Schroeder and Sheriff Hutchens.

    I have worked in the legal community for 30 plus years and as a non-attorney, I have never witnessed such a one-sided PR scam meant to deceive trusting citizens. In my personal opinion, the OC Forewoman needs to submit to psychological testing to ensure she is mentally stable to serve the citizens of OC as a member of the grand jury. Forewoman Carmody wanted her 10 minutes of fame and she definitely sold her soul to the devil today to satisfy her need for public grandstanding.

    Dr Carmody’s grand jurors could have delivered a non-opinionated, factual report based on a review of ALL docs, which Carmody admitted were not included in the docs reviewed. Where are the Feds?

    • LFOldTimer

      This Grand Jury should retire soon as their term is up. Hopefully one of the grand jurors will come forward and tell us what really happened during the course of their investigation behind closed doors. Their conclusions are absolutely laughable based upon the evidence that has been published in the news. Judge Goethals must be fit to be tied. The GJ findings contradict his work and the work of the 4th District Appellate Court. What a scam!!!! lol.

    • verifiedsane

      The fix is in…..This Grand Jury report defies all logic and reason….OC has become the new national poster-child for institutionalized government corruption….

  • Jane Rands

    “The grand jury blamed any wrongdoing involving jailhouse informants on ‘a few rogue deputies who got carried away with efforts to be crime-fighters,’ and unnamed District Attorney officials who didn’t didn’t pay attention to disclosure issues.”

    I’m so tired of the one bad apple argument. You either take responsibility for what’s going on under your watch or you get out of the proverbial hot kitchen.

    • verifiedsane

      Concerned citizens should read this article by Scott Moxley @ the OC Weekly. It’s past time for the GJ to pull their heads out of thier ***** (the sand); instead of adding more corruption gasoline to this continued oligarchy wild fire.

      The following article gives us a nice broad overview of how truly corrupt and dysfunctional OC government continues to be to this very day.

      In Orange County’s Courthouse Scandals, Prosecutors and Sheriff Unite in Cover-Ups
      http://www.ocweekly.com/news/in-orange-countys-courthouse-scandals-prosecutors-and-sheriff-unite-in-cover-ups-8116278

      • LFOldTimer

        Moxley is truly a great reporter. First class.

        Orange County residents should thank our lucky stars to have him monitoring and reporting on all these government thugs.

  • The OC Grand Jury is a toothless, worthless civil program that an the past, both the Sheriff and corrupt DA have ridiculed. They couldn’t investigate their way home much less through a complex scheme such as the Jailhouse Informant Scandal. A bunch of old retired intellectuals, bought and paid for by the system. An appellate court decision differs from this collective buffoonery that is the embarrassing pimple of OC. Do away with them before they make bigger fools of themselves and our county.

    • LFOldTimer

      Actually I believe it was the 2012-13 or 2013-14 Grand Jury (I can’t remember which) that did a bang-up job and angered the Board of Stupidvisors to such a point that they wanted to reduce the GJ stipends from $50 to $15 a day. lol.

      But the current OCGJ is just another county swamp dweller agency that followed the instructions of their owners. Don’t forget, it was the BoS that funded this investigation and hand-picked the 2 lead investigators. That should tell you everything you need to know.

      • Yeah, and I didn’t know that until you mentioned it. Just adds fuel. Let ’em burn, starting with the fore-person.

  • Ed Rakochy

    There is too much contradiction between the Appeals Court conclusions and the OC Grand Jury. Let’s cut to the chase here. This will be best handled by an outside agency (The Feds) who are not connected to the County of Orange.

    • LFOldTimer

      Let’s pray the Feds apply knowledge, integrity and common sense here and get it right.

      I trust what the 4th District Appellate Court ruled.

      The OCGJ is completely out to lunch. What laughable conclusions!!!! lol.

  • LFOldTimer

    The county system is totally rotted and rigged and the OC Grand Jury is TOTALLY IN ON IT!!!!

    ALERT: Something that VOC failed to report that was reported in the OC Register: The Board of Stupidvisors FUNDED the OC Grand Jury investigation to the tune of $400,000 and hand picked the lead investigators who were HIRED with that money!!!! HELLO????

    They’re playing with a marked deck and trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the county residents!!!

    The evidence CLEARLY SHOWS that the illegal jail informant scandal is a SYSTEMIC problem!!!! READ THE DAMN EVIDENCE!!! OCSD supervisors are clearly being deceptive on the witness stand. The presiding judge has openly questioned their credibility on the witness stand for God’s sake!!!

    The top brass are pleading STUPID by claiming they had NO IDEA there was an illegal jail informant program being run right under their noses!!! How is that believable???

    So you think sergeants and grunt cops would risk their careers and risk their freedoms by INDEPENDENTLY running an illegal informant scandal and hiding it from their supervisors???

    HOW STUPID DOES THE GRAND JURY THINK WE ARE????

    About a DOZEN OCSD cops have REFUSED to testify invoking the Fifth to protect themselves from self-incrimination!!!

    Who do you believe? The OC Grand Jury or the 4th District Appellate Court??? I BELIEVE THE LATTER HANDS DOWN!!!!

    HELLO???

    NOT SYSTEMIC???

    MY FOOT!!!!!

    I’ll tell what what is SYSTEMIC: CORRUPTION IN ORANGE COUNTY GOVERNMENT!!!!

    The FEDS are our last hope. God help us if they agree with the rigged OC Grand Jury!!!!

  • Joel Block

    Illinois v. Perkins, the case cited by the Grand Jury as justifying the OC snitch program, is not applicable to prisoners who have public defenders or other legal counsel. Usually, prisoners obtain counsel upon indictment or their first court appearance in the case. Here is a law enforcement publication’s discussion of the limitations of the exception to Miranda. http://www.policemag.com/channel/gangs/articles/2004/08/point-of-law.aspx

    • LFOldTimer

      Don’t confuse them with the facts, Joel.

      Someone should call the OCGJ out on their misinterpretation of Illinois v. Perkins, since that was apparently one of their main reasons that justified their conclusions.

      The informants that the police planted on Dekraai (and others) occurred after he (they) made his (their) initial court appearance, was (were) formally charged and had retained or appointed counsel. Why do you think the other previously convicted defendants received new trials, were released from jail or given very generous plea deals in connection with the illegal informants??

      It is a BIG NO-NO to target such inmates with police informants. This is basic knowledge of even lay persons who are at all familiar with the way the criminal justice system works in America,

  • Paul Lucas

    this is total BS!

  • verifiedsane

    The findings are starkly different from what an appeals court ruled in November. That unanimous decision
    found “systemic problems” with informants and evidence disclosure at
    the Sheriff’s Department and DA’s office and said Goethals had conducted
    “a search for the truth” that revealed “evidence regarding improper
    conduct by the prosecution team.” – something smells rotten with the OC Grand Jury….