Friday, June 16, 2017
[Orange County] New testimony appears to contradict O.C. Grand Jury report on jailhouse informants
The day after the Orange County Grand Jury declared there was no sanctioned informant program in Orange County jails, a retired sheriff’s lieutenant testified that informants were routinely used on her watch and she helped “formalize” the process.
In a special hearing Wednesday, Catherine Marie Irons, who oversaw the jail special handling unit before retiring in 2015, said supervisors developed a plan to better track and assist internal informants as well as those brought in by outside police agencies, including Anaheim and Fullerton.
Irons said the investigations included outfitting informants with recording devices to capture conversations with inmates.
She said the efforts needed to be organized largely for inmate safety. Irons said the effort started around 2012 and “as time went on we continued to formalize it.”
“Who vetted the legality of that? Did you?” asked Judge Thomas Goethals.
“No,” Irons said, conceding that she did not receive any training on the legality of working with informants in the jails.
The testimony appeared to contradict in part a grand jury report released Tuesday finding that the Sheriff’s Department was not operating an organized jailhouse informant program, and that allegations of systemic cheating were unfounded.
The report conceded some jailhouse informants were used by rogue deputies who drifted outside of their custodial duties into solving crimes. But this effort was not sanctioned or formalized by the department or the district attorney’s office, the report said.
The report labeled as a “myth” assertions by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders that prosecutors and police misused jailhouse informants on inmates who had been formally charged and were represented by lawyers, in violation of constitutional law.
Grand jurors also said the hearings conducted by Goethals were a “witch hunt” and asked him to leave the investigating to state and federal prosecutors.
The Sheriff’s Department had no comment on Irons’ testimony.
Goethals in this hearing is trying to determine if informant-related documents were illegally destroyed by the sheriff’s department. If so, Goethals said he might take the death penalty off the table for mass murderer Scott Dekraai, who pleaded guilty to killing eight people in a shooting spree at a Seal Beach salon in 2011.
An informant targeted Dekraai, but taped recordings of those conversations were not presented by prosecutors in court after Sanders cried foul.
Also on Wednesday, family members of a victim said they want to forfeit the death penalty if it will bring an end to the tortuous proceedings.
Standing before the judge, three siblings of victim Michele Daschbach Fast, 43, appealed for Goethals to sentence Dekraai to life in prison without parole.
Leelee Daschbach, Laura Daschback and Rooney Daschback said they were told by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas that it was a “slam dunk,” but the case has lingered for more than five years, marred in court battles.
“Never did we imagine that the blunders that tainted this case would be created by the prosecution team themselves, on a case that was supposed to be a slam dunk,” Laura Daschback said, reading a letter from all three. “Not only have we lost our beloved sister, we have lost total faith in a system that was supposed to be of the benefit of the people.”
However, in another letter read in court, Mary Bianchi, the sister of victim Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65, said she wants to see Dekraai sentenced to death. Despite the legal issues, Bianchi said the fact remains that Dekraai should face punishment for a horrible crime.
“I do not believe a self-confessed mass murder’s rights should outweigh the rights of the victims and their families,” she said.
The hearing continues Thursday.
June 14, 2017
The Orange County Register
By Kelly Puente and Tony Saavedra