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Internal sheriff data obtained by Voice of OC is opening up a window into hundreds of sustained policy violations by Sheriff’s Department staff – ranging from excessive force to mishandling evidence, dishonesty and burglary.
The data shows that since 2019, there have been at least 18 cases where sheriff staff were found to have engaged in dishonesty – ranging from “untruthfulness” to inaccurate timekeeping and a false use of force report.
In another 20 cases, sheriff staff were found to have violated the law – including domestic violence, falsifying an official document, DUI, burglary and sexual assault.
[Click here to see spreadsheet data of sustained Sheriff’s Department staff violations since early 2019. See something interesting? Contact reporter Nick Gerda at firstname.lastname@example.org]
Out of more than 1,000 deputies who booked evidence over 6 days late according to a 2018 audit, the data shows there have been a total of 8 sustained violations for failing to book evidence on time.
Sheriff policy required deputies to book evidence by the end of their shift.
Asked why more of the late bookings weren’t sustained as policy violations, sheriff officials said the issue was thoroughly reviewed and handled appropriately.
“Not every delayed booking of evidence was outside department policy,” sheriff spokeswoman Jaimee Blashaw said in a written response to Voice of OC’s question.
“The Sheriff’s Department proactively conducted multiple thorough reviews and held accountable the appropriate number of department personnel,” she added.
As for the audit finding more than 1,000 deputies booked evidence late, Blashaw said:
“It does not mean that by definition more than 1,000 deputies booked evidence outside policy. A delayed booking identified in the initial review does not necessarily mean a policy violation occurred.”
“A policy violation doesn’t automatically mean an [internal affairs] investigation is launched,” she added.
Voice of OC obtained the Sheriff’s Department data through a Public Records Act request for its quarterly summaries of its misconduct investigations.
The raw sheriff records make it difficult to see the total numbers of sustained violations for each type of breach.
That’s because the violation data is separated out by quarter and are not added up in the documents – and in some cases the same type of violation is described in multiple ways.
To make it clearer, Voice of OC entered the data into a single spreadsheet and is publishing it publicly here.
The data shows:
- There were 206 sustained violations of policy from January 2019 through March 2021.
- There were at least 21 sustained violations around use of force, including 10 cases of “excessive force,” 8 cases of “poor tactics resulting in a use of force” and 3 cases of failing to report a use of force.
- The most common punishments were a written reprimand and a suspension of less than 24 hours.
- Out of the 206 sustained violations in total, nine staff were fired, 34 resigned, and two were demoted.
- Among the sustained violations are one case each of failing to provide an inmate with meals, violating the Fourth Amendment, mishandling legal mail for an inmate who was representing themselves, and two cases of failing to conduct safety checks.
In recent years the Sheriff’s Department has been rocked by a wide-ranging evidence scandal, which involved hundreds of deputies failing to book evidence on time and in some cases making false statements in their police reports.
The evidence mishandling led to criminal charges and convictions being dropped against 67 defendants, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The dropped charges include assault, battery, possession of brass knuckles, check fraud, and smuggling a weapon into the Orange County jail, according to prosecutors.
Two deputy sheriffs – Bryce Simpson and Joseph Atkinson – have pled guilty to crimes for failing to perform their duties in connection with evidence booking. A third, Edwin Mora, was indicted with a felony last summer for allegedly filing a false police report about evidence.
Thanks to a recent state law, the public now has a right to see investigation files about police officers who were found to have committed serious misconduct – including lying, wrongfully killing someone, or sexual assault.
The Sheriff’s Department posts those files on its website at this address.
But if you ask for anything older than a few years, you’re largely out of luck.
Sheriff officials have a policy of destroying their misconduct records after five years – with narrow exceptions if there’s a legal hold or pending records request.
It’s the bare minimum they’re required to keep the documents under state law.
The summary data showing the number of sustained violations also gets destroyed after a few years, according to the sheriff’s public records office.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.