Judge dismisses lawsuit alleging OC Sheriff’s Department policies allowed contraband and sex in jails

by in News

An Orange County Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former deputy accusing the Orange County Sheriff’s Department of turning a blind eye to jail policies that resulted in contraband and sexual liaisons behind bars.

David Cass, who three years ago was acquitted of bribery charges, had been seeking a jury trial for a 2015 lawsuit alleging that Sheriff’s Department higher-ups targeted him when attempted to blow the whistle on jail policies.

“In sum, (Cass) was retaliated against, demoted and ultimately wrongfully terminated for continually warning (sheriff’s officials) about violations of law concerning security failures and legal runners at the Men’s Central Jail who (sheriff’s officials) were essentially allowing to illegally sneak contraband to inmates in violation of state and federal code,” Attorney Garo Khajadourian wrote in a recent court filing on behalf of Cass.

In dismissing the lawsuit with prejudice, Orange County Superior Court Judge John C. Gastelum ultimately sided with attorneys for the county and the Sheriff’s Department, who contended that Cass waited too long to file his complaint, and alleged that he had lied during a department investigation and accepted money from a jail visitor who claimed to represent an inmate.

“The Orange County Sheriff’s Department must manage the ever-running flow of (jail) personnel, thousands of inmates and their legal representatives,” attorneys for the county wrote in a recent court filing. “Maintaining security requires judgement calls regarding officers’ character.”

Orange County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said the department is pleased with the judge’s decision. Cass’ attorney did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.

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In his lawsuit, Cass claimed that he first alerted co-workers and his supervisors of his concerns while he was working as a guard at the sheriff’s-run Central Jail Complex in Santa Ana. Cass alleged that legal runners – who carried documents to and from inmates on behalf of attorneys and court officials – were being allowed to enter the jail without being searched. As a result, Cass alleged in his lawsuit, the runners were exchanging contraband with inmates or engaging in sexual activity in private, soundproofed visiting areas.

Cass alleged that bringing his concerns to department higher-ups led to a harassment campaign against him, culminating with his arrest.

Cass was charged with taking bribes from Ha Nguyen, the girlfriend and later wife of convicted killer Stephenson Kim, who at the time was awaiting trial. Prosecutors alleged that Cass allowed Nguyen, a legal runner, to take contraband to Kim, and for Nguyen and Kim to have sexual encounters behind bars that the couple recorded with a cell phone.

A jury acquitted Cass of one bribery charge, and split on several other criminal charges. A judge tossed out the case, noting that “no reasonable trier of fact” could find Cass guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Had the case gone to trial, a key issue would have been whether Cass was forced out of the department, as he alleged in the lawsuit, or whether he resigned on his own, as the department’s attorneys contended in their court filings.