California ends Orange County jailhouse informant probe without explanation from attorney general

ByLisa Bartley KABC logo
Saturday, April 27, 2019
CA ends OC jailhouse informant probe without explanation
State prosecutors have dropped their investigation into the Orange County jailhouse informant scandal without offering any explanation to the public, victims or the two agencies under scrutiny.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KABC) -- California state prosecutors have dropped their years-long investigation into the Orange County jailhouse informant scandal without offering any explanation to the public, victims or the two agencies under scrutiny.

Eyewitness News caught up with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra at a press conference Thursday in Los Angeles on an unrelated topic.

Becerra would not discuss the closure of his agency's investigation other than to confirm what his deputy attorney general stated in court is accurate.

Last week, Deputy Attorney General Darren Shaffer admitted, "the investigation is closed," when pressed by Orange County Superior Court Judge James Rogan.

"You can take that response by our deputy in that case as an accurate representation of where we are, but he responded only because he was asked by a judge," Becerra told Eyewitness News.

That explanation doesn't sit well with Paul Wilson whose wife Christy was among eight people murdered by Scott Dekraai in a Seal Beach salon massacre back in 2011.

Dekraai's long and tortured criminal case exposed the secret and often times illegal use of jailhouse informants to coax confessions from defendants in violation of their constitutional rights.

"I find it quite funny that the Attorney General continues to use words like 'accountability,' 'nobody's above the law,'" Wilson tells Eyewitness News. "Those words just resonate with me because all of the above apply to what's happening in Orange County with our district attorney and the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the snitch scandal, and he's using all those big impressive words, but that's not applying to Orange County."

Wilson wanted to ask Becerra for answers at the news conference, but was not allowed inside because he is not a credentialed member of the media.

"We deserve justice. We didn't get it in Orange County, and so we looked for it from him and he also let us down," Wilson said. "It's cowardly and pathetic."

Orange County Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders first exposed misconduct by deputies and prosecutors while defending mass murderer Scott Dekraai. Sanders says the scandal has led to the unraveling of at least 18 felony cases. At least one admitted murderer, Isaac Palacios, was set free.

"What you want is a system that operates fairly and if you don't hold law enforcement and prosecutors accountable when they make errors, the message goes out to those people that you can do whatever you want," Sanders tells Eyewitness News.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals called out two deputies by name in a 2015 ruling saying they "intentionally lied or willfully withheld material evidence" in the Dekraai case.

"This was obvious perjury -- the judge in the case called it out multiple times," Sanders said. "So, hiding behind the notion that it's hard to prove -- it wouldn't have been hard to prove for any other citizen. If any other citizen did what these folks did they would be in custody serving time in a local jail or in prison. Instead these deputies are going to go away and enjoy their retirement fully paid without a single problem, without a single mark on their record."

Deputy Tunstall and Deputy Grover elected to resign from service last month, according to Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesperson Carrie Braun.

The internal investigation for Deputy Garcia is ongoing, Braun said, adding he remains on administrative leave during the investigation.

"OCSD investigators will complete the investigations to ensure that all opportunities for additional areas of improvement have been implemented and addressed," Braun said.

New Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer announced this week he's launched his own investigation into misconduct by prosecutors in his office under previous District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

"If we find any of those individuals contributed or assisted in the deprivation of any of a defendant's constitutional rights, those individuals will be subject to discipline and potential termination," Spitzer said.

Critics have pointed out that after Spitzer was sworn into office, he promoted Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner, who was in charge of the mishandled Dekraai case.

"So, it's interesting, just before Mr. Rackauckas left office, he demoted Mr. Wagner from Assistant District Attorney, who was 'at will,' to a civil service position," Spitzer said. "He did that to protect him from any future disciplinary action."

"I put Mr. Wagner back in an 'at will' position until the outcome of this investigation," Spitzer said.

Spitzer tells Eyewitness News the state's investigation is as much of a mystery to his office as it is to observers and victims like Paul Wilson.

"I've asked all of my staff whether there's been any inquiries since this first came about in 2015 and I was told 'no,'" Spitzer said. "There's been nothing since I was sworn into office, there's nothing after I was elected in November."

"The people have a right to know if snitches were used illegally by my predecessor Mr. Rackauckas and his office, they have a right to know what the outcome was of that investigation is by the California Attorney General," Spitzer said.

Got a tip? Email ABC7 Investigative Producer