Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer Wednesday announced he would begin an internal probe of his office and its role in the so-called snitch scandal involving allegations of improper use of jailhouse informants.
Spitzer made the announcement following a revelation last week in a drug possession for sale case in the North Justice Center courthouse in Fullerton that the Attorney General’s Office has closed its investigation. Deputy Attorney General Darren Shaffer said his office’s probe was concluded when questioned by Orange County Superior Court Judge James Rogan.
Scott Sanders of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, who represents the defendant in the drug case, Oscar Galeno Garcia, was instrumental in uncovering the allegations of abuse in the sheriff’s informant program as he represented Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history, who ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Spitzer hammered his predecessor Tony Rackauckas, who he defeated in November, on his handling of the scandal, but he assumed the Attorney General’s Office was still investigating.
Since taking office in January, Spitzer has implemented multiple reforms to address the allegations related to the use of informants. Spitzer established a position of a chief ethics officer and revised the jailhouse informant policy that more closely mirrors protocols used in other major counties in the state.
Spitzer has also reduced the use of informants so the use of them will be rare and when they are utilized prosecutors will have to develop stronger corroborating evidence. He has also assembled a new committee to review the usage of informants and Spitzer must sign off on the use of an informant.
“It’s always been my understanding the attorney general and the U.S. attorney was looking at what the other agencies were doing,” Spitzer said of the sheriff’s department. “I think the public has thought for all these years, including myself, that this was going to be the province of those outside agencies.”
Federal prosecutors in the civil rights division are still actively investigating the informant programs in a civil probe that would likely lead to a consent decree, not criminal charges, Spitzer said.
“I’m disappointed that (the attorney general’s office) has not contacted my office,” Spitzer said. “We’re working with the feds, trying to cooperate with them and resolve the issue.”
Federal prosecutors have been “bombarding my office” with requests for information, Spitzer said.
“I’ve already ordered all of my employees to be available for interviews,” Spitzer said.
The Attorney General’s Office has not responded to requests for comment since Monday.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes recently announced his own internal probe before the Attorney General’s Office had acknowledged its probe was finished.
Sanders said the Attorney General’s Office “never indicated that it was investigating the DA’s office, so there was obviously no reason to wait for them.”
Sanders also criticized Spitzer for promoting and supporting “attorneys who clearly have responsibility for what went wrong, so if he finally takes action it will mean admissions by Mr. Spitzer that he made some terrible mistakes from day one. We shall see.”
Rackauckas’ office was booted from the Dekraai case when Sanders uncovered cases of the improper usage of informants in the jailhouse that he said amounted to constitutional violations.
Former Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, now an appellate court justice, later ruled prosecutors could no longer pursue the death penalty against Dekraai, leaving life without the possibility of parole as the only option.
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