New District Attorney Todd Spitzer to launch internal probe into Orange County jailhouse informant scandal
New Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer announced Wednesday he will conduct his own investigation into the office’s use of jailhouse informants because it does not appear local prosecutors were reviewed in the state’s four-year probe.
Spitzer made the statement in a letter sent to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra seeking clarification on whether the state has ended its investigation, which began in 2015 under former Attorney General Kamala Harris, now a U.S. senator and presidential candidate.
Harris’ office originally said it was investigating prosecutors as well as three sheriff’s deputies whom a judge accused of being dishonest with the court. But Spitzer said in the letter that no documents were ever requested from the District Attorney’s Office and no employees were interviewed.
In a statement to news agencies, Spitzer said, “I have repeatedly relied on the California Attorney General — who has supervisorial authority over all 58 elected District Attorneys — to get to the bottom of the Rackauckas scandal in Orange County. While seeking clarification from the Attorney General, I am now moving forward on Phase Two of my reform efforts.
“I refuse to wait for the Attorney General to make any conclusions given this lack of communication on inquiries. It is my responsibility as the recently elected District Attorney of Orange County to move forward with my own investigation into what occurred and what, if any remaining personnel, are responsible.”
Spitzer is not the only Orange County official frustrated with Becerra. In January, Sheriff Don Barnes notified Becerra he could no longer wait to begin an internal probe into the three deputies, Seth Tunstall, Ben Garcia and William Grover.
On April 19, a deputy attorney general revealed in court that the office was no longer looking into the three deputies and the “snitch scandal.” A separate civil rights investigation is continuing by the U.S. Department of Justice into the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office.
A Superior Court judge and appellate justices have confirmed that prosecutors and deputies were misusing jailhouse informants to get information that could lead to convictions and withholding the informants’ pasts from defense attorneys, all illegal.
Assistant Deputy Public Defender Scott Sanders, who uncovered the misuse of informants in 2014, urged Spitzer to look beyond the District Attorney’s Office and include the Sheriff’s Department in his investigation.
“If Mr. Spitzer’s letter truly reflects a new era of prosecutorial and law enforcement accountability, the end to the embarrassing sham investigation by the California Attorney General presents the Orange County District Attorney’s Office with a tremendous opportunity,” Sanders said. “The three-year statute of limits on perjury charges … does not lapse for at least several weeks. Therefore, the OCDA is now in a position where it can prosecute the deputies who committed perjury.”
Sanders added: “Taking this step will restore a measure of faith in the justice system.”
Spitzer’s office stressed he will concentrate only on his department.