Saturday, July 29, 2017
Orange County deputies placed on leave in death of Danny Pham, who shared a jail cell with a suspected double-murderer
Blog note: this article states that the Sheriff’s Department failed to implement recommendations by the last six grand jury reports, which uncovered the need to upgrade antiquated and ineffective jail surveillance systems.
Five Orange County Sheriff’s deputies are on paid leave following the killing of a convicted car thief who shared a jail cell with an accused double-murderer.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office as well as the sheriff’s department are conducting separate investigations into the July 3 death of 27-year-old Danny Pham, who was serving a 180-day sentence for car theft.
Investigators from both agencies are looking into, among other things, suspicions that deputies did not check Pham’s cell in a timely manner, the Register has learned.
Pham’s family in Westminster also wants to know why he was placed with Marvin Magallanes, an Anaheim man who confessed in May to killing two transients and whose mental capacity was questioned by a judge. Pham did not have a history of criminal violence in Orange County.
The district attorney’s office is conducting a criminal homicide investigation, while the sheriff is looking at whether deputies followed internal procedures. Both agencies declined comment on Friday.
The placement of Pham with Magallanes could violate jail protocol. Jail officials classify inmates into various housing locations depending on their past confinement history, current charges, criminal sophistication, and a host of other indicators, according to the sheriff’s website. The purpose of the classification system is to minimize the risks to staff and inmates.
Pham was found dead in his cell by a jailer making a food delivery. He died with less than a week left on his sentence, his attorney said. Authorities have not released the cause of death or said if Magallanes is a suspect.
Pham’s death came less than a week after the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California blasted Orange County’s five jails for excessive violence, harsh treatment of mentally ill prisoners and unhealthy living conditions.
The ACLU specifically criticized jail deputies for not routinely conducting mandatory “floor checks,” in which deputies walk the floor to see inmates.
Interviews with former inmates revealed that surveillance camera blind spots resulted in poor supervision of certain prisoners and allowed jail violence to go unnoticed and unchecked, according to the ACLU report.
“Formerly incarcerated individuals disclosed that deputies seldom conduct floor checks, which exacerbates already poor supervision of certain units due to housing configuration and inadequate cameras.”
The group called for Sheriff Sandra Hutchens to step down. Hutchens, the same day as the ACLU’s scathing report, announced her retirement in 2018. She said her decision had nothing to do with the ACLU’s criticism, and downplayed the report as one-sided and flawed.
The report, based on a two-year investigation by the ACLU included interviews and reports from 120 recent O.C. inmates and others. It established a pattern of “denial and indifference” among county jailers.
The report notes that despite years of complaints of violence and poor conditions in the Orange County jail system, Hutchens and the county Board of Supervisors have “turned a blind eye to this abuse and misconduct,” and no deputy has ever been formally charged in an incident of prisoner abuse by jail personnel.
In addition, the report said inmate-on-inmate violence within the jails increased between 2010 and 2014. There were 524 assaults in 2010, compared with 772 in 2014, the report states.
The Sheriff’s Department has also failed to implement recommendations by the last six grand jury reports, which uncovered the need to upgrade antiquated and ineffective jail surveillance systems, according to the report.
“Although a viable upgrade plan with committed funding and approval for implementation was established, sufficient progress has not been made,” says the report. “This is evidenced by the three escapees from the Central Men’s Jail in January 2016.”
In 2014, after six years of investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice wrote a letter to the sheriff’s department criticizing use of force, crowded conditions, supervision practices, medical care, and mental health care within Orange County jails.
The federal investigation, which remains open, was prompted by the death of John Derek Chamberlain, a 41-year-old Mission Viejo man who was fatally beaten in 2006 by inmates in Orange County jail who wrongfully thought he was a child molester.
A lawsuit later alleged that a deputy didn’t respond to the fight while he watched television, and the suit resulted in a $600,000 county payment to Chamberlain’s family. A grand jury report later concluded that lax oversight by jailers contributed to Chamberlain’s death.
July 21, 2017
The Orange County Register
By Tony Saavedra