OC sheriff to review 22,000 cases in deputy evidence scandal

SANTA ANA (KABC) -- The Orange County Sheriff's Department will review about 22,000 cases associated with an evidence-booking scandal involving missing items or evidence improperly booked, Sheriff Don Barnes announced Tuesday.

Sheriff's deputies and investigators with the Orange County District Attorney's Office will go over the cases that have been flagged by prosecutors from March 22, 2015 to March 22, 2018. About 1,500 cases have been reviewed, Barnes said.

Sheriff's investigators referred 15 deputies to prosecutors to consider for criminal prosecution, but no charges were filed. Five of the deputies have been fired, nine have been disciplined and one investigation is pending.

Two additional deputies have also been identified as having evidence booking issues and have been placed on administrative leave as they are investigated internally.

RELATED: OC public defender accuses DA of negligence in case of sheriff's deputy allegedly mishandling evidence

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders has raised issues about evidence booking in a few of the cases he has been handling, including Delpino Murca, who is charged with felony grand theft and petty theft from a pawn broker.

"There's really no question this is this the tip of the iceberg. If you said there was just a few things that were problematic and we find out with one case there's 74 cases with missing evidence, I think we should all reasonably expect that there's thousands of affected and tainted cases," Sanders said.

Sanders said he's outraged the D.A.'s office did not press criminal charges against the deputy accused of mishandling evidence in the 74 cases.

"If a regular citizen had 74 cases in which they filed false reports, they'd be prosecuted as quickly as you can imagine," Sanders said. "Here, nothing's happening to a person who takes a sworn oath in uniform, it makes no sense. It's not fair."

But the district attorney said criminal investigations are still open.

"That is not over. We are presently looking at all of those cases that have been submitted by the sheriff to determine if those deputies were engaged in criminal conduct," OCDA Todd Spitzer said.

The sheriff's department released a statement, saying in part: "This is an issue of policy that we identified, we addressed, affected parties were notified, and we have remedied with safeguards to ensure this does not happen in the future."

In a filing last month, Sanders demanded records related to Deputy Bryce Simpson and Orange County Sheriff's Department Investigator Mark Baltodano. Sanders alleges that Simpson was one of the deputies referred to prosecutors, but no charges were filed.

Sanders said there was a five- or six-month gap from the time charges were rejected and Simpson was added to a list of deputies with issues regarding evidence exchanges with defense attorneys.

Sanders took aim at Barnes' previous statements to reporters that minimized the number of cases affected by missing evidence or items booked outside the time frame outlined in the department's policy.

Simpson had 84 cases in which evidence went missing and 56 in which all of the evidence was missing, Sanders said in the motion.

City News Service contributed to this report.
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