OC assistant public defender accuses OC sheriff's department of improperly recording jail calls

ORANGE COUNTY (KABC) -- An assistant public defender, who uncovered the Orange County jail informant scandal, launched new accusations against the sheriff's department and Global Tel Link, or GTL, the vendor that oversees the jail phone system.

In a motion filed late Tuesday, Scott Sanders alleged phone calls between jail inmates and their defense attorneys were being improperly recorded and accessed years earlier than what Sheriff Sandra Hutchens had stated.

"We think they knew about it from the very beginning if you look at the dates,"said Sanders, assistant public defender.

Sanders alleged a GTL employee, Larry Coleman, knew about the improper recordings but instead of stopping the practice, he allegedly helped OCSD special handling deputies access calls beginning on Feb. 23, 2015.

Documents showed Coleman accessed one inmate call on that day.

"A couple of hours later the special handling unit starts accessing calls," Sanders said. "It's pretty hard to believe these are unrelated events."

In the past, Hutchens said she first learned of the improper jail call recordings in June 2018.

In a letter dated July 27, 2018, GTL told Hutchens it blamed it on a "technical error" during a system update in 2015.

GTL said 1,079 inmate-attorney phone calls -that should have been marked "private"-were recorded over three years, violating state law. Fifty-eight of those calls were accessed.

"They list about 1,000 calls. We think there's about 200,000 calls," Sanders said.

Sanders filed a motion asking for access to the recorded calls of his client, Justin Weisz, 31, who pleaded not guilty to numerous charges including felony burglary. So far, Sanders said there's no record of any calls made by Weisz.

Sanders alleged the OCSD and GTL removed thousands of inmate-attorney calls from the list.

"If you're sitting in the public defender's office, it's calls day after day," Sanders said. "They list seven (calls) to the main office of the public defender's office."

The improperly recorded calls came to light in August during the case of Joshua Waring, who faces attempted murder charges. He's pleaded not guilty and his attorney is now trying to get the charges dismissed. The OC District Attorney's Office said it first became aware of the improper jail phone recordings during the Waring case.

In the latest motion, Sanders also alleged in 2015, three weeks after special handling deputies began accessing improperly recorded calls, that the sheriff's department terminated the work station log.

Sanders said the last log entry is March 13, 2015, which is one day after Judge Goethals recused the entire D.A.'s office in the trial of mass murderer Scott Dekraai in a ruling that severely criticized special handling deputies for hiding and concealing records during earlier testimony.

GTL issued the following statement:

"GTL denies the allegations in this story. GTL is fully cooperating with the County, the Sheriff's Department, the court and the court-appointed special master. Because of the ongoing proceedings, GTL cannot comment further."

The sheriff's department maintains that "due to human error by a GTL employee, a significant number of calls between inmates and their attorneys had been inadvertently recorded."

"GTL has taken responsibility for the error. The 'do not record' list issue has been rectified and numbers on the list are not being recorded," said Carrie Braun, OCSD spokesperson.

The OC Superior Court appointed a special master to review the recordings.

County supervisors also ordered an investigation by the Office of Independent Review, something Hutchens said she also requested.
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