LOS ANGELES ― Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals said Friday he was “disappointed and disturbed” by a secret log that Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputies kept for years on jail inmates and informants. The 1,157-page log has been kept under seal since it first surfaced about four months ago, but in court on Friday Goethals explained that it makes “clear” that a branch of the OCSD is “extensively” involved in dealing with informants in the jail.
His comments came during a hearing for the Scott Dekraai case, a high-profile mass-murder case already plagued by alleged misconduct by prosecutors and sheriffs involved in a tainted jailhouse informant program.
“I’m, at best, disappointed that these documents washed ashore more than three years after my major discovery orders,” Goethals said in court. “I’m also disturbed that these documents should have been disclosed a long, long time ago.”
Goethals noted that the information contained within the log contradicts statements by various deputies who testified about jail informants during the Dekraai case, which has been on hold for about a year and a half following the misconduct allegations.
Much of what is known publicly about the log comes from a June brief and press release from the OCDA’s office, which after years of denials finally acknowledged that an informant program exists and that sheriff’s deputies “cultivated,” “recruited and utilized” informants and rewarded them for information.
The log mentions informant names throughout and frequent informant interaction with “numerous” and “high-profile” inmates, Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner described in court documents. In the log, the deputies refer to various activities with inmates and informants as “plans,” “capers” and “operations,” and came up with “self-styled” code names for these activities like “Operation Okie Doke,” the court documents read.
Goethals said in court Friday that he was dismayed about those details.
Deputies made entries in the log beginning in September 2008 and then abruptly stopped in January 2013 ― one week after Goethals made a comprehensive order for the sheriff’s department and DA’s office to provide evidence regarding an informant used in the mass-murder case. Goethals said Friday that the timing was “curiously coincidental.”
Deputy County Counsel Liz Pejeau, who represents OC Sheriff Sandra Hutchens in the case, requested that the contents of the log be kept under seal, but public defenders argued most of it should become public. Goethals rejected the blanket seal request on Friday and ordered Pejeau to develop arguments explaining why each entry should be kept hidden. Goethals set a new hearing for late September to deliver his ruling on what, if any, portions of the log should remain secret.
The sheriff’s department continues to deny that the jail informant program even exists. In court on Friday, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders cited a recent Huffington Post article detailing the bizarre disagreement between the two agencies and submitted it to the court.
This is the second time Sanders has uncovered a trove of notes that sheriffs kept about inmates and that may have been withheld in violation of defendants’ rights. Last year, after Dekraai pleaded guilty to shooting and killing his ex-wife and seven other people in a hair salon in 2011, Sanders found a database that the sheriff’s department maintained on the movements of informants and inmates that may have been illegally concealed for at least 20 years. Those records of inmate movement, known as TREDs, suggest that, at least in the Dekraai case, an informant may have been placed next to Dekraai intentionally.
Sanders has been arguing since 2013 that a tainted snitch network in county jails has existed in secret for decades. In a series of blockbuster motions, the defense attorney unearthed damning evidence pointing to the program’s existence, alleging that county prosecutors and police have violated multiple defendants’ rights by illegally obtaining and sometimes withholding evidence gleaned from jail informants. His discoveries have led to multiple murder cases in the county unraveling, even resulting in some accused murderers having their sentences vacated.
Legal experts have called for the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a full investigation of the DA’s office and the sheriff’s department over the informant program. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas maintains that no one in his office intentionally behaved inappropriately in relation to the informant program.