There’s an ongoing scandal in Orange County, Calif., over how the office of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and the sheriff’s department use jailhouse informants in criminal trials. The main allegation is that the agencies are deploying “snitches” to elicit confessions and other incriminating statements from other inmates accused of serious crimes. The informants are then given time off on their own sentences. The problem is that the quid pro quo and the tactics the informants are using to gather statements from the accused aren’t being disclosed to defense attorneys, as required by law. More background from the Open File blog here.
The fallout from the scandal continues. Incredibly, Orange County prosecutors appear to be ready to let accused murderers and other alleged felons go free rather than open up practices and tactics to scrutiny. Here’s a report from the Voice of OC:
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has dropped murder charges against another defendant after allegations that prosecutors improperly withheld evidence gleaned from a network of jailhouse informants.
On Sept. 22, prosecutors dismissed charges of attempted murder and solicitation of murder against 49-year-old Joseph Martin Govey, who has a prior criminal history. Lesser charges — including possessing counterfeit money and a felon with a firearm — remain.
Govey’s case marks the third time in three months that District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has chosen to drop murder charges rather than challenge defense attorneys’ claims that members of his team behaved unethically and violated evidentiary law with the informants network.
The network was first revealed earlier this year during an unprecedented hearing in the case of convicted mass murderer Scott Evans Dekraai.
Govey’s attorney, Renee Garcia, said the dismissal of the charges appears to be designed to hide informant evidence from her and other defense attorneys involved in other cases.
“It is part of a pattern in the District Attorney’s Office, whereby they are being unethical by not complying with the constitutionally mandated evidence discovery requirements,” said Garcia.
“What is very disturbing is that the whole district attorney management teams knows about this. They are behaving unethically. How corrupt can the office be?”
On Oct. 2, prosecutors dropped the remaining charges, too. This is my favorite part:
Susan Kang Schroeder — chief of staff for Rackauckas — said in an email: “It is the official policy of the Orange County District Attorney not to respond to inquiries from the Voice of OC,” citing past disagreements over articles.
Earlier this month, OC Weekly offered the details on how another man accused of murder was freed:
Marc Rozenberg–an often-cantankerous senior OCDA manager known for eagerly piling on charges to intimidate suspects–won the award for creatively solving discovery failures in two separate Santa Ana murder cases. In late September, Rozenberg offered Isaac John Palacios, the defendant in the killings, a sweetheart deal: If Palacios allowed him to close the matters before trial–one by dropping the charges entirely, the other by getting a second-degree guilty plea–the punishment would be probation with no prison time. [He] accepted and hours later walked out of the Orange County Jail.
It’s difficult to get voters interested in DA elections, even when prosecutors are shown to have put innocent people in prison. Maybe the knowledge that prosecutors have released people accused of violent crimes rather than submit to an investigation of their files will generate some interest. You can read a much more thorough summary of this mess over at Open File.