Thursday, June 22, 2017

[Santa Barbara County] Canary: Ain’t it grand?

I don’t know about you, but when I think of people throwing shade, the last thing that comes to mind is “grand jury report.”
These days, people mostly talk trash to each other in comments sections, on Twitter (you know who I’m talkin’ about), in text messages—anything but face to face. And now it seems like the Santa Barbara County grand jury is slinging it up and down the coast.
First off, the recent county report on water management in the county—including at the Cachuma Reservoir—may not seem like a huge deal, but it is to the water districts. The report said that local water purveyors weren’t working together like they should, naming names and calling districts out!
“What do you mean we aren’t managing the water effectively?” they say. And according to Chris Dahlstrom with the Santa Ynez Water Management District, the report is full of errors and misunderstandings!
Well geez. I get it though—sometimes government is hard to understand. It’s why so many throw up their hands and say the government is corrupt, or that it doesn’t know what it’s doing, rather than actually try to understand how it works.
Another recent grand jury report went to the mat, this time with Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino for her task force on youth safety. The task force is designed to address the gang problem in Santa Maria, but the report said that Patino is limiting the scope of the endeavor by taking the lead on it, pushing the county out, and that there isn’t enough of a cross section of Santa Marians on the task force.
The gang problem in Santa Maria has been a slow burning one, which flared up in 2015 and early 2016 when the city saw an unprecedented number of homicides. Locals have a serious sense of urgency toward that problem, and they don’t want to be left out in doing something about it.
It’s also an issue that many are wondering how Santa Maria’s new Acting Police Chief Chris Hansen will handle after Chief Ralph Martin retires. Hansen retired from the LA County Sheriff’s Department, like Martin, so will it be more of the same?
Chief Martin has definitely earned some accolades for his work with the Santa Maria Police Department. Martin took a department in serious crisis after former Chief Danny Macagni retired and turned it around. Martin made steps forward in fighting local street gangs, and most recently spearheaded Operation Matador, which arrested more than a dozen alleged MS-13 gang members.
But Martin hasn’t been completely uncontroversial. When Santa Marian Marilyn Pharis died after two men attacked her in 2015, including one who was in the country illegally, Martin decided to play politics. He blamed Gov. Jerry Brown and the administration of President Barack Obama for the policies that barred him from handing the attacker over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
And let us not forget the ruse press release Martin put out last year to help with Operation Matador—it earned him a Fake News Award, after all!
Hey, where’s the grand jury report on that?
June 21, 2017
Santa Maria Sun
Commentary by The Canary

[Calaveras County] Grand Jury: City of Angels Camp should discuss dissolution

The Calaveras County Civil Grand Jury has recommended that Angels Camp city officials discuss dissolving the city because of financial problems, lack of public interest in running for elected office, and alleged misuses of public funds.
Mayor Scott Behiel blasted the report’s arguments for considering the dissolution of the city, which was incorporated in 1912, as “flimsy.” He also questioned whether there were political motives behind the complaint that led to the jury’s investigation.
“The report is just a rehashing of the audits thrown in with a frivolous case for dissolution,” Behiel said. “It’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.”
The 82-page document also includes reports on investigations the jury conducted over the past year into the Calaveras County Jail, Calaveras County Assessor’s Office, Calaveras County Child Protective Services, and Vallecito Conservation Camp.
However, none of the other findings in the report are quite as sensational as those about the City of Angels Camp.
The report stated that the jury discovered several areas of mismanagement within the city, including an employee who was allegedly misusing administrative leave, failing to adhere to the city’s payroll advance policy, and misusing city credit cards.
City Attorney Derek Cole confirmed that the employee in question, whose name and title are unspecified in the report, was former City Administrator Michael McHatten.
McHatten denied any wrongdoing when contacted by phone Wednesday, saying he mistakenly used his city-issued credit cards for personal purchases and has reimbursed the city for any extra leave pay-outs he took by accident.
McHatten was hired as the city administrator in August 2011 and left in early January after getting a job as city manager for the City of Soledad.
According to the report, audits of the city’s finances for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 fiscal years found that McHatten took pay-outs for his accrued administrative leave in excess of the maximum 240 hours in his employment contract.
The 2014-15 audit stated that over payments were accrued in the city’s general ledger as a loan because “the employee (McHatten) received 533 hours of administrative leave in the form of pay-outs over the amount available and the city internal controls did not detect these overpayments.”
A finding in the audit report for the 2015-16 fiscal year stated that the city’s finance department calculated over $29,000 had been paid out to McHatten in excess of the maximum 240 hours.
The report also stated that the council retained an outside accountant to review the potential overpayments and discussed the results behind closed doors at a meeting in December, though the finance department did not review the outside accountant’s work.
Management’s response was the city would record any amounts determined to have been overpaid and seek reimbursement, and the finance department staff would review any amounts calculated by outside contractors.
The grand jury’s report also cited the 2015-16 audit report alleging that McHatten didn’t follow the policy approved in 2015 for salary advances in which requests should be sent to the administrative services director, who would then forward it to the finance officer, city administrator, or mayor for approval.
Employees are also not allowed to take salary advances in back-to-back pay periods, according to the city’s policy, but the 2015-16 audit found that McHatten had taken advances within four days of each other for consecutive pay periods and signed the checks along with the administrative services director.
Neighboring counties and cities, including Calaveras County, Amador County, Sutter Creek, Sonora, Jackson and Ione do not have a payroll advance policy, according to the jury. The audit further stated that the city’s policy “has a high risk for fraud.”
The jury also cited the findings from the 2015-16 audit that showed McHatten made purchases with a city credit card on 12 separate instances that were not supported by a detailed receipt, five of which were later determined to be for personal items.
McHatten provided a handwritten explanation for a $148.91 charge on April 3, 2016, that stated it was to purchase deli trays and drinks for a League of California Cities meeting, the audit stated. However, a detailed receipt obtained from the store on July 8, 2016, showed what appeared to be many personal items, including a $36.99 bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label Whiskey.
The audit also found a $99.61 charge at a restaurant on April 20, 2016, in which the credit card slip was presented without a detailed receipt, but the city obtained one that showed four 16-ounce beers, four meals, four sides, and a $20 tip on a $75 bill.
Since the instances were discovered, the jury noted that credit cards were taken away from those who were misusing them and a new training program was created for all card holders that emphasizes they are not for personal use and requires the employee to sign an acknowledgement and responsibility form.
Multiple city officials confirmed that McHatten reimbursed the city for all personal purchases that were made.
Mary Kelly, the current Angels Camp city administrator who was the city’s administrative services director at the time, said nine other employees have city credit cards and none have been found making personal purchases.
McHatten, who was contacted by phone Wednesday, said the purchase that included the bottle of Johnnie Walker was a mistake.
“At the time, I was talking to my oldest daughter who I had been estranged from for a number of years and just happened to call me while I was at the store. It was pretty emotional,” McHatten said. “I had two cards that looked remarkably the same, one is the city (card) and one is the personal, and I just used the wrong one for the purchase.”
When asked about the other purchases, McHatten said most of them were tied to a PayPal account that he would use to make both personal and business purchases and he accidentally made personal purchases with the wrong card.
As for the payroll advances, McHatten said many employees took them prior to the council adopting a formal policy in 2015. He said his advances were also signed off by the administrative services director.
“It wasn’t done in a vacuum,” McHatten said.
McHatten said he didn’t believe the $29,000 figure was accurate and blamed the overpayments for administrative leave largely on the city’s former finance director, whom he said wasn’t recording the leave properly when he took payouts so it appeared he had more leave than he really did.
Kelly said that finance director quit in 2012, but the audit stated that some of the payouts occurred as late as April 2015.
After the overpayments were discovered in the audit for the 2014-15 fiscal year, McHatten said he worked out a deal with the council in which he didn’t take any leave or payouts during the 2015-16 fiscal year as a form of repayment.
McHatten said he believes everything was square when he left in January.
“I view the position of city manager as holding the highest morals and ethics, and I feel I did,” McHatten said. “I owned up to the mistakes, I’m human and I make them, but as far as I know everything is resolved between me and the city.
Not so, according to Kelly and Angels Camp Police Chief Todd Fordahl, who both confirmed there is an open investigation into the matter.
Fordahl said he wasn’t authorized by the city to provide details on the scope of the investigation, though he said that part of it would “obviously” look at whether any criminal activity occurred.
“We’re looking at all options and possibilities, but it’s still in the early stages,” Fordahl said.
Behiel said the city is still trying to “get a good handle on the money that’s owed and do what we can to collect,” though he acknowledged the council had worked out a yearlong repayment program with McHatten.
The city-management response to the 2014-15 audit that first uncovered the overpayments, completed while McHatten was still city administrator, stated that “any advance or erroneous payments for accrued leave have been fully collected from the affected employee as of the date of this report.”
“This is where the accounting gets strange depending on who you talk to,” Behiel said. “Michael thinks he’s owed money at this point.”
Behiel said the council filed an insurance claim for the $29,000 somewhere between 60 and 90 days ago.
As far as McHatten’s performance as city administrator, Behiel called it “outstanding.”
“He seemed to know his stuff, he was on top of things, his reviews were very stellar,” Behiel said. “By and large, everyone thought he was doing a great job. That’s why when he said it was an accident or confusion, we didn’t have any reason to doubt him.”
However, Behiel is second guessing some of McHatten’s abilities.
“The employees seemed to respect him. He was very competent. Nothing seems to change that,” Behiel said. “Now when it comes to financial management, yeah, I’m starting to question some of his abilities there.”
All current city officials and council members interviewed stated the city has taken proactive steps to prevent any similar issues from occurring again.
The city-management response to the 2015-16 audit, completed after McHatten left, stated that a new policy requires checks to be signed by someone other than the recipient, new check signing authorizations were executed for all bank accounts due to changes in staff, and new policies were adopted regarding the appropriate use of credit cards and providing management review for charges.
Behiel was highly critical of the report’s recommendation to hold a public meeting to discuss the possibility of dissolution, especially over the report’s argument that there is a general lack of interest in running for city council.
Two people ran for three open seats during the election in 2016, requiring the council to appoint a member.
Kelly said Joseph Oliveira was appointed to an open seat at Tuesday’s meeting, but he was one of four candidates who applied. She added that she couldn’t remember another election with fewer candidates than open seats in her 10-plus years of working at the city.
“Don’t tell me there’s not interest in our city,” said Behiel. “Just look at scholarship night at Bret Harte (High School), Friends of the (Calaveras County) Fair, Destination Angels Camp volunteers, Utica Water and Power Authority employees and board members, public works employees.
“To not only imply but state there is a lack of interest in the city, that’s just frivolous. They don’t see what goes on, and the pride employees take everyday.”
The city is required to file a response to the grand jury’s report that the council must approve by its first meeting in August. Under state law, all agencies investigated in a grand jury’s report must file responses within 60 days of its release.
A grand jury is comprised of private citizens who either volunteer, or are selected from Department of Motor Vehicles and voter-registration files.
Grand jurors are mandated to investigate the conditions of all jails and state-prison facilities within a given county, but then are free to investigate any other public entity.
The jury can also launch an investigation based on a citizen’s complaint, which was how the City of Angels Camp came under the grand jury’s scope this year. The city had not been investigated by the jury for over a decade, according to the report.
Here are some of the other findings from this year’s report:
• There was inadequate staffing levels and overtime requirements at the Calaveras County Jail that could create potential health and safety issues, in part due to high turnover because correctional officers there have the lowest wages in the tri-county area that includes Amador and Tuolumne.
• Non-medical personnel were distributing medications to inmates at the jail.
• The jail budget was the lowest in the tri-county area.
• The furniture and TV room at Vallecito Conservation Camp were in disrepair and need to be replaced.
• Calaveras County Child Protective Services had no clear complaint process for grievances against the agency.
• There was a significant backlog in the Calaveras County Assessor’s Office due to a number of factors, which included understaffing, an extensive learning curve for new employees, environmental disasters like the Butte Fire, and difficulty identifying the correct property owner.
June 21, 2017
The Union Democrat
By Alex MacLean

[Solano County] Grand jury faults LAFCO for late updates on services

FAIRFIELD — The Solano County grand jury issued a report Tuesday faulting the Solano County Local Agency Formation Commission for not keeping track of the various city governments and local agencies it relies on to make recommendations to state officials.
Solano County’s LAFCO is composed of five members: two members from the Solano County Board of Supervisors, two mayors and a member of the general public.
The grand jury reported that several local government agencies for many years have not provided LAFCO with timely details about the extent of their services, such as water and sewer services and police, fire and ambulance services. Without that information, cities cannot efficiently forecast growth plans, the grand jury claimed.
The report pointed out that bureaucrats in three of Solano County cities – Suisun City, Benicia and Vallejo – had not provided updates in their data since at least 2005. Fairfield and Vacaville were timely in their reporting.
The grand jury report recommended LAFCO implement a system to complete legally required reviews at least every five years.
The report ended by noting that in the course of the investigation by the grand jury, it appears action was taken by LAFCO to accelerate completion of the updates.
June 21, 2017
Fairfield Daily Republic
By Jess Sullivan

Snitch Myth? Only To Orange County's Reality-Denying Grand Jury

Despite reams of evidence to the contrary, the DA and sheriff adamantly deny their offices cheated to win convictions. The county's grand jury this month accused superior court judges, the California Court of Appeal and courthouse journalists of fabricating the existence of tainted snitch operations. For context exposing the absurdity of the grand jury's claim, we've produced a non-exhaustive summary timeline of events.
June 9: Los Angeles Times questions the use of jailhouse informants in "more than 100 major cases in Orange County," specifically naming deputy district attorneys Tony Rackauckas and John D. Conley for employing notoriously discredited snitch James Dean Cochrum in unconstitutional plots to save weak cases by allegedly obtaining confessions from government targets in exchange for hidden benefits.
Jan. 4: Rackauckas becomes DA.
June 16: David Druliner, chief assistant California Attorney General, advises Rackauckas that his agency has been unethically defying court orders and hiding critical informant evidence in a death penalty case. The DA ignores the problem.
Jan. 8: Conley takes the oath as judge and will defend the DA in a future snitch scandal.
June: Orange County Grand Jury blasts Rackauckas for improperly protecting friends from prosecution and requiring deputy DA loyalty to himself, not the pursuit of justice.
Jan. 30: DA wins murder conviction against Henry Rodriguez after concealing records showing the government's key informant, Mike Garrity, committed perjury by denying prosecutors promised secret benefits for his testimony. A decade later, forced production of that evidence overturns the conviction.
March 29: OCSD management brags that jail deputies possess "excellent expertise in the cultivation and management of informants. This expertise is recognized by the Orange County district attorney's office."
Sept. 19: Landon Horning of Newport Beach testifies as OCDA's star witness in People v. Ricardo Salas, and prosecutors win a conviction after failing to surrender deputies' TRED records and OCDA's Informant Index showing the informant's serious mental health condition and his secret deal for government benefits.
Feb. 28: OCSD internal memo celebrates deputies' "cultivation of hundreds of confidential informants" in the jails.
Feb. 17: With OCSD help, Santa Ana cops David Rondou and Chuck Flynn meet with serial killer Oscar Moriel, who promises he can work as a jail informant producing needed memories "and make it seem like yesterday" if officials reduce his pending life-in-prison punishment. Moriel testifies for OCDA in three cases; juries are kept clueless about the deal.
Oct. 21: Though he is a clandestine informant working for the government, inmate Arthur Palacios is summoned to the witness stand by prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh to say he accidentally overheard OCDA target Paul Smith confess to a murder. Jurors also would not be told that deputies had placed two additional snitches around Smith's cell to extract alleged self-incriminating statements.
Dec. 2: Forced to concede it withheld powerful exculpatory informant evidence from arrested 14-year-old Luis Vega, OCDA drops two-year-old murder charges without apology.
Aug. 18: Jail deputy Seth Tunstall testifies for Baytieh in People v. Gullien, the case involving the gruesome jailhouse murder of John Derek Chamberlain, that he routinely cultivates informants.
Oct. 12: Scott Dekraai kills eight people at a Seal Beach salon.
Oct. 13: Rackauckas seeks state execution of Dekraai, who'd admitted guilt upon arrest.
Oct. 15: To ensure the death penalty, OCSD concocts scam to trick Dekraai, who has been charged and is represented by an attorney, into making more self-incriminating statements—a violation of the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Massiah v. United States. Deputies place him in a cell next to prolific informant Fernando Perez.
Oct. 16: A sheriff's lieutenant allows inmates around Dekraai to read a Los Angeles Times article on the salon massacre before jail deputy Bill Grover secretly meets with Perez, a fact Rackauckas will later ignore to declare the government played no role in the snitch's work.
Oct. 18: Perez, a Mexican Mafia boss, tells deputy Ben Garcia, Grover's partner, that he has lulled Dekraai into talking about his case. Garcia then relays to Bob Erickson, the DA investigator for Dekraai prosecutor Dan Wagner, that Perez is a "reliable informant."
Oct. 19: Deputies launch seven-day recording operation after placing a hidden device in Dekraai's cell to capture his conversations with Perez, who calls his "job" of questioning the government's target "Operation Daylight" in hopes that it allows him to avoid a life in prison sentence.
July 26: Deputy DA Howard Gundy calls veteran jailhouse informant Mark Cleveland to testify in People v. Timothy Hurtado without telling grand jurors that the OCDA's Informant Index labeled Cleveland "a problem informant" and included notations that he "cannot be trusted." Five years later, Rackauckas tells CBS's 60 Minutes Cleveland is a liar, but doesn't explain why he'd personally used Cleveland to win cases without telling jurors of his opinion.
Jan. 11: Dekraai attorney Scott Sanders argues what will be a winning motion for Perez-related discovery that should, but doesn't, result in the surrender of TRED records and the Special Handling Log, both secret OCSD databases that contain evidence of illegal snitch operations.
Jan. 18: Wagner files brief declaring that Perez isn't seeking government benefits for his jail work, though, according to OCDA emails, he knows the snitch is facing Three Strikes punishment for his own crimes, is attempting to win confessions in at least nine separate cases and has worked tireless as an informant in the Orange County Jail (OCJ).
Jan. 22: Wagner tips Tunstall, who is under Sergeant Raymond Wert's supervision in the jail's Special Handling Unit, that Dekraai judge Thomas M. Goethals might order OCSD to surrender informant evidence.
Jan. 23: Wert suddenly terminates the Special Handling Unit's Log containing informant program evidence and, according to documents that would surface three years later, deputies rename the Log "a document of important information sharing only" as a plausible deniability ruse to guarantee future court orders won't specifically seek the entries.
Jan. 25: Over Wagner's strenuous objections, Goethals rules the law requires OCSD to surrender informant evidence.
May 13: Santa Ana police detective Gonzalo Gallardo reminds Wagner that jail informants had been used to capture illegal confessions "under the direction of a district attorney," a quote the DA's office will later claim didn't actually mean what it clearly states. 
Aug. 15: Deputy Seth Tunstall files an affidavit in People v. David Zorich that states his duties include "cultivating, managing and supervising" jail informants.
Oct. 10: With Sanders on the verge of unraveling the illegal government efforts against his client as well the entire snitch scandal, OCDA Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder attempts to generate public pressure for a quick resolution of the case by claiming he's stalling without reason. 
Jan. 31: In a 500-page brief loaded with facts, Sanders details systemic criminal-justice-system fraud by deputies who've helped prosecutors win cases with corrupt informant activities and hidden evidence.
Feb. 28: On KPCC, Schroeder repeats her claim that Sanders is performing a cheap defense attorney stunt to stall the case and can't prove his allegations.
March 24: Wagner, who heads OCDA's homicide unit, claims he conducted an intensive agency-wide probe into Sanders' allegations but testifies under oath that none of his investigators took a single note or made a single interview recording.
April 10: Gundy tells Goethals that Sanders' allegations of informant program abuses are "vile and outrageous."
April 22: Sanders' evidence forces Gundy to admit law enforcement cheated against Dekraai and that illegally obtained statements should be suppressed. 
May 6: Deputy Ben Garcia testifies under oath, "We don't have informants" and an angry Gundy declares government wrongdoing in Dekraai was only "negligence" and not intentional corruption.
May 21: Deputy William Grover says he spent "less than zero" time handling snitches.
June 30: Prompted by a supervisor, Grover advises a Riverside County deputy, "OC has been in the media recently for its inmate informants. OCJ no longer labels these inmates 'informants.' We now call them 'sources of information' or 'SOI,'" a ruse to bypass court orders.  
Aug. 5: Goethals rejects law enforcement's contemptuous stance against Sanders, ruling deputies were "credibility challenged." But he refuses to remove the death penalty potential from Dekraai.
Aug. 27: Sheriff Sandra Hutchens' aide Brent Benson swears to Goethals under penalty of perjury, "There is no jailhouse-informant program" inside OCSD.
Sept. 5: Sanders learns of the existence of TRED records. Unamused he'd been lied to by deputies and that the DA and sheriff refuse to punish the offenders, Goethals will reopen hearings.
Sept. 23: Assistant DA Marc Rozenberg states he wants to avoid another round of embarrassing snitch hearings and will allow killer Isaac Palacios to walk free in 2017, escaping a life-in-prison sentence for two murders.
Early December: Hutchens tells the Orange County Register there is "no deliberate effort" to hide evidence and blames poor training as the reason deputies, whose government pay pay package are $200,000 annually, didn't know they must testify honestly after swearing "to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" while standing in front of Goethals.
Feb. 9: Tunstall claims he never used jail informants, but after Sanders confronts him with his 2013 affidavit, the deputy sheepishly replies, "I guess I put the wrong words in there."
Feb. 17: Garcia swears he was ordered to conceal informant use and TRED records. 
Feb. 17: Amending his 2014 testimony, Grover echoes Garcia's story.
Feb. 17: Deputy Jonathan Larson testifies about jail-informant tanks and admits deputies cultivated informants.
March 15: Goethals, a former high-ranking prosecutor, rules deputies lied about snitch activities and, stating he can't trust Rackauckas' team to ensure basic ethics, recuses the DA and his entire office from Dekraai. The DA's allies begin a behind-the-scenes effort to smear the judge as an evil Machiavellian character.
July 24: At a county supervisors' special meeting, Hutchens, a politician who campaigned on possessing squeaky clean ethics, insists there is "no scandal" at OCSD, while Erwin Chemerinsky, UC Irvine School of Law's dean, says the scandal is direly serious because constitutional rights have been trampled and an independent watchdog over the department is needed.
Sept. 30: The New York Times reports on a multi-decade Orange County law enforcement "scheme" by "prosecutors and the county sheriff's department" to win convictions with "illegal jailhouse confessions."
Oct. 22: A sweating Hutchens tells Los Angeles' KABC-TV reporter Marc Brown and producer Lisa Bartley there is no informant program in her jails and that Rackauckas' prosecutors, who up to this point have been pretending not to know about TRED records, are fully aware of the database.
Nov. 18: More than three dozen ex-prosecutors and legal scholars nationwide announce that "compelling evidence of pervasive police and prosecutorial misconduct in Orange County has caused us great concern," and call for an independent federal investigation.
Early Jan.: Rackauckas' hand-picked "outside independent" review committee issues 24-page report noting informant program "deficiencies" and the existence of a "win-at-all-costs mentality" in OCDA. The DA responds by appearing on KFI radio to declare his operation is near perfect.
Feb. 29: Posing as offended at a community forum, Rackauckas and Hutchens portray the snitch scandal as a nutty conspiracy theory because there is no jailhouse informant program.
March 4: Despite Wagner's previous claim that Perez hadn't been seeking benefits for his snitching, the career criminal avoids a life sentence in Judge Gregory Prickett's court after OCDA failed to note their informant had committed perjury in his own case.
April 29: Portions of the Log emerge in a separate case, leading Goethals to learn of a second long-hidden OCSD database.
June 9: OCDA officials claim shock to learn of buried records and a jailhouse-informant program, though they've benefitted from the ploys for decades.
July: OC Grand Jury opens probe by first hearing denials of wrongdoing by government officials, and will wait six months to seek and then swiftly discard Sanders' input. Revealingly, the panel never even bother to interview two other prominent defense attorneys whose clients were cheated by tainted informant testimony: Jim Crawford and Rudy Loewenstein.
July 26: Baytieh, whom Rackauckas picked as his frontman in the PR campaign against the scandal, tells a UC Irvine School of Law audience, "I can look you in the eye" and claim there's no evidence of systemic law enforcement cheating with informants.
Aug. 18: Lieutenant Mark Stichter, Hutchens' media flack, assures the Huffington Post, "There is no jail informant program in the jail."
Sept. 13: Rackauckas and Hutchens propose law changes that would limit the ability of death penalty case defendants to discover law enforcement cheating.
Nov. 22: A unanimous California Court of Appeal backs Goethals' DA recusal as legally sound, praises his special hearings a "search for the truth," and observes there's overwhelming evidence prosecutors and deputies ran a systemically contaminated informant program.
Dec. 10: Numerous relatives of the Seal Beach victims hold a press conference feet away from the Pacific Ocean to announce disgust that OC law enforcement wrecked an easy case and to call for an end to the mess by giving Dekraai eight consecutive life-in-prison without parole terms.
Feb. 10: Tired of Hutchens brazen defiance of his lawfully-issued court orders, Goethals announces a third round of special evidentiary hearings to determine the likelihood of the sheriff ever submitting to the rule of law.
April 28: Moriel, the government snitch who admitted to murdering at least six people, has his own attempted murder case continued for the 40th time as Rackauckas tries to wait out the "myth" that is the informant scandal before handing the killer a sweetheart deal that could put him back on the streets.
May 31: With a sheriff's monitor watching, OCSD Lieutenant David Johnson testifies jail deputies never managed informants, even though he wrote a 2009 memo stating that deputies under his control "handle and maintain confidential informants." An incredulous Goethals shakes his head and smiles.
June 5: Wert offers an innocent explanation for why he ended the Log in 2013: Without ever having looked at the records, he decided they were worthless. He claims his decision was aboveboard, as evidenced by him advising his boss at the time, Lieutenant Catherine Irons, who will drop three bombshells when she testifies.
June 5: Commander Jon Briggs becomes the first OCSD supervisor to concede "it's obvious" the Log proved an active snitch program.
Evening of June 5: The 74-year-old Rackauckas tells a wealthy Turnip Rose crowd at a Costa Mesa fundraiser for his planned upcoming fifth-term in office that he's been working "tirelessly" to "ensure the administration of justice in our county." Peaceful protesters outside the event claim one of event attendees ran a vehicle into the crowd and fled. Police are investigating.
June 8: OCSD Lieutenant Lane Lagaret, now Hutchens' media flack, testifies he never saw a memo addressed to him that states Special Handling Unit jail deputies were to "cultivate/manage confidential informants," though the document had been prominently posted on the office wall for at least months.
June 11: Having received an advance copy of the upcoming grand jury report, Rackauckas grabs a guest editorial in the OC Register and hails Conley, his colleague in the 1985 snitch scandal and now a judge, for calling Sanders reckless.
June 13: Grand jury foreperson Carrie Carmody claims the panel found "no evidence" of a jailhouse-informant program during a yearlong probe that relied mostly on secret input from deputies and prosecutors. Carmody, who struggles to answer reporters' questions, slams Goethals, Sanders and the news media for conducting "a witch-hunt." She advises the judge to end his hearings.
June 13: Lagaret retakes the stand hours after the grand jury press conference and states he knew deputies falsely testified about informant use at 2014 and 2015 Dekraai hearings but remained mum.
June 14: Now retired, Irons breaks the witch-hunt wide open by testifying that, despite Hutchens' plan to blame the scandal on a couple of "rogue" deputies such as Tunstall, Garcia and Grover, she saw the Log in 2013 and that during 2014 Dekraai hearings, OCSD management purposefully hid TRED records from courts. She also contradicts Wert's testimony about ending the Log, stating she never authorized the action.
June 15: Paul Wilson, husband of one of Dekraai's victims, ridicules the grand jury for labeling the scandal a "myth," says the panel's report is shameful and encourages Goethals to continue his "pursuit of the truth."
June 21 2017
OC Weekly
By R. Scott Moxley

[Santa Clara County] Emergency room visits by Medi-Cal patients soaring, state data shows

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report on the subject.
California’s low-income residents continue to head straight for the emergency room — instead of their doctor’s office — for expensive treatment, a practice that the Affordable Care Act was supposed to curb.
Three years into Obamacare, new figures show, ER visits by the state’s Medi-Cal patients rose 44 percent from early 2014 to late 2016.
That’s pretty much the opposite of what architects of the nation’s health care law had predicted: The Obamacare provision expanding Medicaid was designed to get low-income people to start going to doctors in cost-efficient “managed care” plans.
But with a chronic shortage of doctors to treat the Golden State’s 4 million new Medi-Cal recipients, Mountain View resident Grace Bennett isn’t surprised the transition hasn’t gone as planned.
“I got my enrollment card and this lovely letter that said, ‘Congratulations! You have a doctor you can call for primary care,”’ recalled the 54-year-old temp office worker, who has epilepsy, “but she refused to see me.’’
Bennett had such a tough time getting any help from the Santa Clara Family Health Plan in 2014 and 2015 that she largely used El Camino Hospital’s emergency room staff for checkups, lab work and prescriptions — and where she said she met other Medi-Cal enrollees in similar situations.
Because the care provided in emergency rooms is so expensive, they aren’t meant to be used for basic health care services. And with about a third of Californians now on Medi-Cal as a result of the Obamacare expansion, that means a bigger bill for federal and state taxpayers.
The Affordable Care Act’s architects had predicted that enrolling more people in Medicaid (called Medi-Cal here) and then assigning each participant a primary care doctor would divert those patients with minor ailments — like the flu or urinary tract infections — away from the ER.
But struggles over accessing physicians or long delays for appointments, experts say, are among the reasons why Medi-Cal patients logged about 1.4 million visits to the ER in the last quarter of 2016. According to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, that’s up from around 1 million in 2014, when the Affordable Care Act took hold.
To many experts, the most obvious explanation for the increase is Medi-Cal’s explosive growth — from a program that served just over eight million people before Obamacare to one that now provides coverage to 14 million Californians.
Chris Perrone, a director at the California Health Care Foundation who focuses on improving access to coverage and care for low-income Californians, said that he’s not surprised by the numbers, but if the figures don’t start dropping noticeably by year’s end, he said, “I would be … alarmed.”
That’s because he thinks it’s taking some time for the previously uninsured adults now receiving Medi-Cal — who once avoided hospital ERs because of the exorbitant bills that awaited them after treatment — to get familiar with their managed care plans.
Now that they’re covered by Medi-Cal, their pent-up demand for health care is often being met 24/7 by ERs. The fact that those using emergency rooms don’t face any penalties for seeking such costly care — coupled with confusion about their new plans — it’s no wonder they head to the hospital for minor aches and pains.
“They know they have a payer source, and they are seeking care — and many are seeking care in the emergency departments,’’ he said.
But Perrone and other health policy experts predict that these high numbers will drop — as they already have from a peak of almost 1.5 million visits in the first quarter of 2016 — as problems are ironed out and enrollees establish a stronger relationship with their primary care doctors.
That said, Perrone acknowledged Medi-Cal’s chronic challenge of finding enough doctors to treat all 14 million participants.
Surveys show only 40 percent of doctors in the state treat 80 percent of Medi-Cal patients, largely because California has one of the lowest provider reimbursement rates in the country.
Hounded by physician groups, Gov. Jerry Brown last week agreed to address the issue by adding $546 million in extra funding for Medi-Cal doctors, dentists and others from the 2016 tobacco tax to the budget year that begins July 1. He and the Legislature also agreed to provide $711.2 million to cover the growth in the program.
Perrone and others hope the cash infusion will widen the pool of doctors to care for these patients — and reduce ER visits. The budget boost is among several financial incentives offered by some health plans around the state. Those include bonuses for doctors who succeed in getting their patients to show up for appointments instead of heading to the ER — and even a chance for new Medi-Cal patients to win $50 gift cards if they get their first exam done within a few months of joining a plan.
Other programs — including physician consultations by email or video, especially for rural residents who don’t live near major medical centers — appear to be effective, Perrone said.
Through a variety of programs, the Central California Alliance for Health, which runs the Medi-Cal programs in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Merced counties, has reduced its patients’ ER visits from 15,003 in early 2015 to 12,472 in the first quarter of this year, said the alliance’s chief medical officer, Dr. Dale Bishop.
The Partnership Health Plan of California, which runs the Medi-Cal programs in 14 North Bay and rural Northern California counties, has seen a 37 percent decrease in emergency room visits from January 2014 through September 2016 by instituting similar incentives, said CEO Elizabeth Gibboney.
Bennett, the Mountain View resident and Medi-Cal enrollee, credits the efforts of Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian in helping her finally nail down a doctor’s appointment.
Outraged over the nearly two-year delay, she filed a complaint with the Santa Clara County civil grand jury in late 2015 to investigate whether Medi-Cal patients using the Santa Clara Family Health Plan were able to get medical care from physicians listed by the plan.
Last month, after the grand jury released its report and recommendations, plan officials said they were addressing these and other patient concerns.
“What happens to people who aren’t educated — who don’t know how to push for service — when it becomes dire for them?’’ asked Bennett, a former legal secretary. “I think they either go without care — or they go to the nearest emergency room.’’
June 21, 2017
The Mercury News
By Tracy Seipel

[San Mateo County] Local agencies strive for transparency

Grand jury notes improvements to public information

Local governing agencies’ initiatives to make their work more accessible to the public have received the San Mateo County civil grand jury’s stamp of approval, according to a new county report. 
The Coastside Fire Protection District even received a Certificate of Excellence, issued by the Special District Leadership Foundation.
Others, including Coastside County Water District, Granada Community Services District, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Montara Water and Sanitary District and San Mateo Resource Conservation District,  are also eligible to apply for the distinction.
In 2014 a grand jury called for greater transparency of operations in the county’s 22 special districts. At that time, they recommended that the districts shoot for openness, honesty and accountability. 
To achieve this, the grand jury encouraged agencies to design their websites to make it easy to locate pertinent information such as mission statements and services, board member names and compensation, meeting times and agendas, governing policies and finances. 
These are all things that most agencies have been happy to share, but may not have made available online in the past. 
“If someone comes in here and asks for something, I just hand it over,” said Delia Comito, assistant general manager of the Granada Community Services District. “Improving the website will make us more transparent in terms of convenience and people being able to access the same information they would if they were to walk in here.”
A checklist for the Certificate of Excellence also requires ethics training, policies for handling public records requests and reimbursement and regular audits. 
“That’s what’s in our blood anyway,” said Clemens Heldmaier, general manager for the Montara Water and Sanitary District. 
Having already done the hard work of complying with these recommendations, several agencies, including MWSD, are in the process of applying or intend to apply for the Certificate of Excellence.
“The certificate is a vote of confidence that the public receives the best treatment,” Heldmaier said.
David Dickson, general manager of the Coastside County Water District, indicated that a certificate would not be as important as action. 
“I don’t think this changes anything,” Dickson said. “What’s meaningful is whether the website is transparent or not.”
Lacking a detailed description of its election process, the San Mateo County Harbor District has not yet met all the criteria to qualify for the certificate.
June 21, 2017
Half Moon Bay Review
By Sara Hayden

Solano [County] grand jury report offers little insight on Sheriff’s Marine Patrol Program

FAIRFIELD — The Solano County grand jury, the public investigative watchdog of government, issued a report Tuesday on the Solano County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol Program that offered just one recommendation.
The report described the duties of the four full-time deputies and sergeant in the program, but offered no insight or details about what the program has done recently, its operating costs, its accomplishments or shortfalls or what its plans are for the future.
The report includes two pages of pictures of the five watercraft, including two $80,000 Sea-Doo jet skis used by the deputies, and a one-page map of Solano County.
The grand jury report offered no explanations for how the more than 10,000 hours of duty time for the deputies and the sergeant resulted in 7,316 hours of “activity” including 1,575 hours on the county’s waterways, an average of 30 hours per week for one employee throughout the year.
The grand jury report’s single recommendation for the public is that the Sheriff’s Office should provide more details about the Marine Patrol Program on the Sheriff’s Office website.
June 21, 2017
Fairfield Daily Republic
By Jess Sullivan

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

[Monterey County] Civil grand jury: More jail staffing means patrol shortage

Increased staffing at the Monterey County Jail has resulted in fewer deputies on patrol while an overall shortage of deputies has meant millions of dollars spent covering overtime costs, according to a recently released report from the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury.
The civil grand jury created an ad-hoc committee to look into staffing issues at the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office. The committee conducted interviews with MCSO staff, toured the jail, requested data and performed additional research.
In 2013, a $4.8 million class-action lawsuit was filed against the county on behalf of inmates and former inmates who claimed dangerous and illegal jail conditions. In May 2015, a settlement was reached, and the Monterey County Jail agreed to institute procedural and staffing changes as required in the settlement.   
Complying with the settlement by increasing the number of deputies at the jail created the unintended consequence of a severe shortage of patrol deputies, according to the civil grand jury report. 
Although 118 deputy positions are authorized for patrol, only 101 deputies exist who are available for patrol. To comply with the settlement, 35 of those deputies have been transferred from patrol to the jail, leaving just 66 available for patrol, according to the report. In contrast, 144 deputy positions are authorized for the jail. 
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Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal swore in 26 new deputies and deputy recruits at a ceremony in Salinas. (Photo: Jay Dunn/The Salinas Californian)
Between March 2016 and March 2017, overtime for deputies totaled $6.2 million, averaging $23,790 per deputy with some collecting much more than that average, according to the report. Starting annual salary upon graduation is $75,396.
The civil grand jury report argues that the $6 million in overtime could have funded more than 40 additional deputies at an annual salary plus benefits of roughly $125,000 per person and still have $1 million left over to cover unavoidable overtime.
Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal said that the redirection of staffing from patrol into the jail is partially a result of the settlement but also due to substantial changes in the jail’s population and responsibilities as a result of Assembly Bill 109, also known as Realignment, which redirected certain inmates to serve their sentence in county jail instead of state prison. 
“We’ve already rotated more deputies back on the street, but we’re still a long way from being staffed the way we should be,” he said. 
As their numbers have been cut, Bernal praised the work of the deputies who have been trying to keep response times down despite having fewer deputies on patrol.
In the 2001-2002 fiscal year, there were 490 employees at the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office. By 2011-2012 fiscal year, there were just over 400 employees, Bernal said. The number of sworn personnel has dropped by 40 in that time as well. 
The sheriff’s office has maintained nearly 30 vacancies for years but has made significant gains in hiring as well, he said. Twenty-one recruits are in the academy now, and after a four-month training program, all of them will likely be ready for work by February or March next year. 
The civil grand jury’s report also contends that the sheriff’s office policy of having academy graduates directly assigned to work in the jail for the first two years is counter-productive to morale and retention. 
Some academy graduates prefer to work patrol rather than in the jail and may go to other agencies that offer the chance to go directly to patrol.
“While in the jail, the patrol skills go unused and the deputy, when finally reassigned to patrol, will need retraining on the job,” according to the report.
The civil grand jury encourages the sheriff’s office to recognize that deputies working the jail handle significantly different tasks than those handled by deputies on patrol and should thereby have two separate job classifications.
However, some believe this policy allows deputies to become familiar with gang members and learn how to interact with them before going out into the community, according to the report. 
Bernal said the policy of having deputies start in the jail goes back to the 90s. While the department does occasionally lose an academy graduate to other agencies, most stay to work at the sheriff’s office after seeing the various division and assignments such as the dive team that are offered, he said. 
“As far as morale and wanting to get out of the jail, that’s always going to be there,” Bernal said. “Most deputy sheriffs who come to the sheriff’s office want to work the street.”
Having deputies at the jail proves useful in times of large fires, floods and special community events when they can be pulled out of the jail to help with staffing, he added. 
To ease the shortage of deputies at the jail over the years, MCSO created the positions of correction specialist and correction specialist supervisor. Those filling these positions can’t perform many tasks assigned to sworn deputies, their pay is less, and the position serves as a pipeline for those who want to apply to be deputies, according to the report. 
The civil grand jury reports advocates for jail duties potentially to be performed by corrections specialists and corrections officers, which would allow deputies to return to patrol. 
Bernal said that while his office is still in the process of reviewing the civil grand jury report, correctional officers go through a different training program than sheriff’s deputies do.
A sheriff’s deputy goes through a six-month training academy whereas a correctional officer goes through a six-week training program, Bernal said. In comparison, correctional officers at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation go through a four-month training program. 
The jail inmate population presents a much different dynamic than state prison inmates, who are already sentenced, he noted, and jail staff must regularly handle fresh intakes, generate search warrants out of the jail, work with a majority felon population and more, Bernal continued. 
“My number one concern is the safety of the county and the deputies and inmates at the county jail … If we were to convert over to correctional (officers,) it would be a six-week, compared to a six-month, training program,“ he said. 
The civil grand jury’s report writes that any reduction in MCSO’s budget would also mean a reduction in deputies for patrol and the jail, inability to comply with the settlement, continued severe lack of adequate patrol and the cost of millions in overtime.
Among suggestions, the civil grand jury advocates for the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to budget for additional deputies, hire an outside personnel consulting firm to conduct a job analysis for the two assignments of jail and patrol and investigate the use of corrections officers at the jail. It also encourages MCSO to hire directly for patrol and the jail, distinguishing between two promotional paths. 
Bernal said he committed to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors that he would not ask for authorization for more positions until MCSO can fill the vacant spots it had, which it has nearly completed this year.
“We’re finally just about fully staffed…To try and fill 30 positions in the last year, they’ve done an amazing job,” he said. 
The next fiscal year appears “status quo,” Bernal said, but he hopes to see improvement in the next few years to increase staffing. In addition to patrol deputies facing a shortage, the records division has also been cut by more than 25 percent in the last ten years, he explained. 
The sheriff’s office has 60 days to respond formally to the civil grand jury’s report.
The civil grand jury has also been investigating issues related to the number of inmates and incarcerated youth with mental health issues. That topic is covered in a separate report that has not yet been released.
June 20, 2017
The Salinas Californian
By Chelcey Adami