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Justice Dept. investigates OC jail system

August 14, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the Orange County jail system. What is going on behind the walls of Orange County's jails? After a number of deaths the Department of Justice is conducting an investigation of the entire system. The new sheriff is open about the fact that there have been some problems.

"We have had a number of troubling cases that I've inherited and I have had a number of audits done in those jails," said Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. "I welcome anyone to come in and take a look and if we can do things better we will."

Back in 2006 inmate John Derek Chamberlain was stomped to death after a deputy allegedly told other inmates falsely that he was a child molester. It happened at Theo Lacy Jail.

A grand jury says a deputy was watching TV and sending personal text messages while the attack took place. Separately, in 2007 and 2008 two handcuffed inmates died after being stunned by a taser gun.

"I have a new policy. I sat down with the ACLU who gave input on that policy," said Sheriff Hutchens. "The policy is that we won't use tasers on handcuffed prisoners unless it's extraordinary circumstance."

The Department of Justice is looking at 10 years of records trying to determine if there's a pattern of violating inmates rights.

A spokesperson for the department said, "We do have an ongoing investigation into the Orange County jail system. Because it's an open investigation, we can't comment on the details, but I can say that the jurisdiction is cooperation."

If the government finds misconduct it could ask for a consent decree, similar to what happened to the LAPD 10 years ago, where it would oversee the jail system.

"Nobody wants that you know, it does cost you more money and you've got some oversight issues and it ends up costing the county a lot of money," said Sheriff Hutchens.

The investigation by the Department of Justice started about eight months back in December and it will take at least a year to complete.

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