Under a veil of secrecy and without any public input, the Orange County Board of Supervisors (BOS) has appointed a new Executive Director of the Office of Independent Review (OIR), and he’s the former attorney for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.

We strongly believe that Robert Faigin will not provide the fair, impartial, unbiased or transparent oversight and protection our community needs.

The OIR was created in 2008 in the wake of a deadly beating in the Theo Lacy jail as a sheriff’s deputy watched television nearby. An internal sheriff’s probe later glossed over the killing while a grand jury investigation found systemic abuse and negligence among deputies at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange. The OIR monitors and reviews specific incidents, systemic issues, and assists in developing and assessing corrective actions that address high risk practices related to the Departments it oversees.

The OIR has oversight of five justice-related County agencies:

  • Orange County Sheriff’s Department;
  • Probation Department;
  • Office of the District Attorney;
  • Office of the Public Defender; and,
  • the Social Services Agency.

Previous Executive Director, Sergio Perez, published a scathing report about the sheriff’s dangerous training and use of force practices, and soon afterwards the BOS caved to pressure from Sheriff Barnes to begin defunding the office. A grand jury report confirmed that BOS was restricting the OIR in response to the office doing its job. Director Perez left OIR, leaving a vacancy that the BOS quickly filled with someone who will continue to condone state violence and hide the unjust policing of our community.

Faigin has a long history of shielding sheriff’s departments from accountability, even when working in what is supposed to be an “unbiased” role. While serving on the San Diego Sheriff’s Critical Incident Review Board, a body tasked with examining all uses of force by that county’s deputies, Faigin oversaw the hearing regarding the death of Paul Silva, a man who was killed by six deputies at San Diego Men’s Central Jail after experiencing a mental health crisis. The Board drew criticism for invoking attorney-client privilege to prevent its findings from being disclosed in court by the lawyers of Silva’s family. The Board came to the conclusion that the deputies were not at fault, despite testimony and violent video recordings.

Silva’s family stated that the review board had given deputies permission to kill with impunity. San Diego County eventually paid the family $3.5 million to settle a lawsuit, embroiling them in a traumatic three years of court proceedings after the death of their loved one. Faigin has proven that he will not be fair or impartial and will not provide real oversight. With such a track record, we can only expect that Faigin will cost our community members their rights and lives and cost the county millions of dollars in settlements.

During Faigin’s tenure at the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, the county paid at least $7.9 million to families of people who died or were injured while in jail, along with another $12 million to the family of a man who suffered brain damage after being booked. A 2018 report from Disability Rights California stated that “There is an extensive public record documenting the tragic loss of lives, systemic failures and inadequacy of oversight. Families of those who have died have filed lawsuits alleging that the county and jail staff acted with deliberate indifference to inmates’ serious mental health, medical and related needs.”

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has already been mired in its own scandals and abuses for decades. The Department of Justice recently determined that Orange County had engaged in a practice of violating the constitutional rights of incarcerated people with its unlawful use of informants. The ACLU of Northern California recently released a report showing that the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has historically been racist, charging people of color disproportionately and more severely while providing more opportunities for diversion to white accused people. The current OCDA Todd Spitzer has been in the news recently for racist comments that likely violated the Racial Justice Act, and in the past has written about opposing mental health diversion, opposes progressive policies, and encouraged police violence during an interview with the media. OC’s sheriff has also been in the news for endangering the lives of incarcerated people during the pandemic and providing moldy, rotting meals since 2020.

The hiring process of Faigin himself has lacked transparency, with the BOS requesting a closed session on September 7, 2022 to negotiate terms of employment with the sheriff’s union under the heading of OIR. Then on October 4, 2022 the BOS spent a total of two minutes on the item discussing, voting and approving Faigin as the new Director of OIR, much like the rushed decision to approve the expansion of the James A. Musick jail, with no meaningful opportunity for public input.

Orange County needs real oversight. The Orange County Board of Supervisors has failed to fulfill its duty to protect and serve its constituents, has put our community at heightened risk of experiencing state violence by providing impunity to government actors, has cost our county millions in potential lawsuits, has ignored its obligation to allow public participation in the decisions that affect us, and has shown once again that they will continue to support police over residents.

We strongly believe that the Board should rescind the offer to Faigin and select a truly neutral and impartial director who will protect Orange County.

If the current Board won’t protect us, we can and should support resolutions that identify the systemic racism and inequality that Orange County is built on as the public health issue that it is. Faigin’s appointment will only exacerbate the disproportionate criminalization of Black community members and cause long-lasting harm. 

Signed,

Karen G. Hernández, Mai Tran, José Armendariz, Chelsea Boyle, and Sarah Kahn are all members of the Stop the Musick Coalition. We are a coalition of individuals and organizations committed to decarceration in Orange County. We believe in a community that invests in public safety and community wellness through care, not cages.

Opinions expressed in community opinion pieces belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

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