Former Orange County DA Rackauckas secretly cleared deputies of lying right before leaving office
As he was leaving office in December, former Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas secretly blocked five deputies who worked with jail informants from being formally designated as liars and having their names released, in theory, to defense attorneys.
In a Dec.20 letter released Tuesday by new District Attorney Todd Spitzer, Rackauckas tells the Sheriff’s Department that the deputies will not be placed on the so-called Brady list, named after the Supreme Court ruling in Brady v Maryland that requires sharing evidence.
Rackauckas made his decision without telling high-level staff members, who found that the deputies had, indeed, been deceitful.
“I understand the importance of the decision and its impact on the criminal justice system, the rule of law, future cases and the lives of the individuals involved,” Rackauckas wrote to then-Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and Sheriff-elect Don Barnes.
The names of the deputies were redacted from the letter released by Spitzer, who was elected in November. The district attorney noted that the deputies union spent more than $372,000 on Rackauckas’ re-election bid.
‘Sweep it all under the rug’
“This was his way of saying, ‘I didn’t win, but thanks for trying,’ ” Spitzer said. “He obviously was trying to sweep it all under the rug before he left office.”
Rackauckas’ also wrote his action was not swayed by Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s decision not to charge three other deputies with perjury for their earlier court testimony on the misuse of jailhouse informants to extract confessions. Becerra’s decision didn’t slip out until months after Rackauckas’ letter and still has not been publicly announced.
“Tony was apparently privy to information that the public wasn’t privy to,” Spitzer said.
Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department, acknowledged the letter, but said the department has never been formally notified by the attorney general of his decision and have consequently started their own investigation.
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who discovered that prosecutors and police were sending informants to illegally glean information from inmates, said the Brady list is a farce to begin with because prosecutors often don’t share the information.
The idea that the office was falsely clearing deceptive deputies made the damage worse.
“The conduct is shameful,” Sanders said. “It devastates any notion that the District Attorney’s Office has been honoring its obligation to turn over favorable evidence to the accused. And the concealment of Brady evidence should have implications for many cases.”
During Rackauckas’ investigation, the D.A.’s Office looked at whether 12 deputies lied in their responses to the sheriff’s call in 2016 for all logs, reports, emails, personal notes and other documentation on the use of informants. Sheriff Hutchens was under a court order to deliver all the paperwork to a Superior Court judge as part of an inquiry.
When Hutchens failed to abide by the court order, the judge responded by taking the death penalty off the table for a Seal Beach mass murderer who killed eight people and had been approached illegally by a jailhouse informant working with prosecutors.
Spitzer said two of the deputies in question were already on the Brady list, five were recommended to be included and five were cleared by staff. Spitzer said he may reconsider Rackauckas’ decision, if allowed by law.
“I just don’t feel it was on the up and up,” he said. “I think it was professionally irresponsible.”
County watchdog dismissed
Spitzer had hoped the county’s Office of Independent Review — a watchdog overseeing both the district attorney’s and sheriff’s agencies — would take a look at the file. But Spitzer said he learned in March that Director Kevin Rogan was denied permission by the Board of Supervisors to take the request.
Then Spitzer learned Tuesday that Rogan had been fired by the board, which was moving to disband the office, with some supervisors saying it was useless.
The controversial office was formed in 2008 after the jailhouse slaughter of John Chamberlain, who was believed falsely by inmates to be a child molester. Chamberlain was killed while a nearby jailer watched the television show “Cops.” The office has become politicized over time and sat empty for two years while supervisors took more control over it.
Spitzer addressed the board Tuesday and brought up the Rackauckas letter in hopes of slowing down the supervisors from disbanding the Office of Independent Review.
Supervisors Andrew Do and Lisa Bartlett did not return telephone messages. Rackauckas also did not respond.