Thursday, December 15, 2016
[Orange County] Investigation needed over ’snitch’ scandal
Blog note: this editorial references the Board of Supervisors’ approving legal expenses for the grand jury to investigate the alleged misuse of jail informants.
In a blistering ruling, the 4th District Court of Appeal determined “systemic failures” and a “cozy relationship” between the Orange County District Attorney’s office and Orange County Sheriff’s Department undermined the DA’s ability to “exercise its vast discretion justly and fairly to ensure every defendant is treated fairly.”
The ruling, released Nov. 22, upheld the 2015 decision by Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals to remove the entire DA’s office from the penalty phase of Seal Beach salon shooter’s trial.
The shooter’s guilt has never been in dispute and in ordinary circumstances a relatively swift resolution to his case seemed almost certain. Instead, the case has inexplicably exposed concerns about the totality of the O.C. criminal justice system.
For years, informants were housed by OCSD deputies near suspects and obtained significant volumes of information for prosecutors. But there were problems with how OCSD and OCDA managed the informants and the evidence provided by them, which was often withheld from defense teams, either intentionally or through what Goethals called “benign neglect.”
The end result was compromised evidence and the violation of defendants’ rights. But both the OCDA and OCSD dispute this narrative.
“We are not willing to bend the rules in order to achieve a conviction, we do not have any divided loyalty,” District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told us. “People in this office are loyal to justice and fairness and upholding the constitutional rights of the accused as well as the victims.”
The Board of Supervisors recently approved $400,000 in legal expenses from the county’s grand jury, which has launched an investigation into the alleged misuse of jail informants.
“I’m gratified about that,” Rackauckas said of the investigation. “I want to see an objective body or a third party do a serious investigation. I know the determination they’ll make is that there wasn’t any intentional misconduct.”
An independent, thorough investigation has long been needed to clear the air about what exactly went wrong, who was responsible and what needs to be done to prevent future violations. We encourage the grand jury to do all in its power to find the truth and help us hold our criminal justice system accountable.
December 11, 2016
The Orange County Register
By Orange County Register Editorial Board