Wednesday, June 28, 2017
[Orange County] Grand jury alleges sexual misconduct at Orange County District Attorney’s Office
Sexual relationships involving supervisors and subordinates in the investigations bureau at the Orange County District Attorney’s office are so common, and generating so many complaints, that the workplace might be a hostile environment, the Orange County Grand Jury says in a report released Tuesday.
The report, “Another Hostile Work Environment? Orange County District Attorney Bureau of Investigation,” was launched after jurors heard complaints about unfair treatment, misconduct and retaliation among investigators. After talking with nearly 100 people, the grand jury heard “multiple admissions of sexual relationships and numerous complaints about preferential treatment and retaliation within the Bureau as a result of these relationships.”
Though the grand jury did not offer data to back up its charges or investigate specific complaints, the jurors concluded that “the sheer volume and pervasiveness of the perception of favoritism and retaliation based on sexual relationships is problematic as that perception alone can create a hostile work environment.”
Allegations listed by the grand jury included:
• “Multiple incidents of transmission of sexually suggestive pictures through emails and text messages”
• “Inappropriate sexual and racial jokes and pictures transmitted via email and text messages.”
• “Unwelcome sexual behavior between some members of management and subordinates.”
• “Unwelcome touching.”
• “Sexual encounters at training conferences.”
• “Sexually explicit comments about coworkers’ body parts.”
The report comes as the District Attorney’s office faces charges of widespread misuse of jailhouse informants, complaints that are being investigated by the state Attorney General and the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
At least one member of the county Board of Supervisors, Todd Spitzer, who is expected to run for District Attorney, called for the county to appoint an independent investigator to find out why complaints about sexual harassment weren’t filed through the county or the DA’s human resources departments.
“The report exemplifies an unacceptable abuse of power, abuse of position, abuse of women and abuse of trust,” Spitzer added in a prepared statement.
It also comes after signs of rising tension within the investigation unit at the DA’s office, a group that includes about 250 people, including 182 sworn police officers.
Last month, two investigators – Tom Conklin and Abraham Santos – filed whistle blower claims alleging District Attorney Tony Rackauckas covered up criminal conduct by police and used his office to help political supporters and retaliate against those who voice opposition. Those complaints followed an earlier complaint filed by Craig Hunter, the former top investigator for the District Attorney’s Office who accused Rackauckas of interfering with cases involving his friends. The reports also included allegations about sexual relationships among supervisors and subordinates.
Rackauckas has denied allegations of favoritism. But he said Tuesday that his office has been looking into issues of potential sexual harassment within the investigation unit over the past seven months.
“The OCDA takes this issue seriously and has been conducting its own internal personnel investigation for the last seven months, taking appropriate actions as necessary.” Rackauckas said in a prepared statement. “I have requested that the (Orange County Grand Jury) turn over any specific information on actionable items so we can bolster the current investigation; I eagerly await their response.”
An attorney for Conklin and Santos, Joel Baruch, said Tuesday that the new grand jury report does not address the investigators’ broader allegations. Baruch said his clients “outlined a pattern of the District Attorney in this county suppressing investigations into friends and prosecuting enemies and further violating defendants’ constitutional rights.
“None of that was mentioned in the grand jury report,” Baruch said. “I think it’s a complete whitewash.”
The grand jury report also described a change in the culture of the DA’s investigation unit.
In recent years, reflecting what some in the department perceive as an increasingly negative view of police within the United States, the DA’s investigation bureau has “shifted away from its mission as a support unit for trial preparation and evolved into a separate law enforcement agency,” according to the report. That change — which the grand jury says involves more training in firearms, use of force and risk management — has sparked “tension in the office that has led to early retirement, relocation, and hard feelings by some investigators.”
It also has made it tougher for underlings to complain about alleged harassment or inappropriate sexual relationships, the grand jury found.
“Individuals who felt they had been subjected to harassment or had witnessed harassment of others told the OCGJ that they would not report it because either 1) they believed there would be retaliation by career curtailment or job loss or 2) nothing would be done.”
The report also found that workers “feared reporting incidents of harassment to Human Resources in the OCDA because they believed it would be reported back to the harassers.”
The report issued Tuesday follows a grand jury report issued June 13 titled “The Myth of the Orange County Jailhouse Informant Program.”
That report offered mixed reviews on the county’s use of informants, saying a few rogue deputies were responsible for informants being misused in specific cases. The report did not mention documents that show at least some prosecutors were aware of informant use and judicial opinions that have described widespread misuse of informants by local prosecutors and police agencies.
June 27, 2017
The Orange County Register
By Kelly Puente, Jordan Graham and Tony Saavedra