Orange County prosecutors announced Tuesday they have found no evidence to prove that anyone in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department should face charges for the in-custody death of a 27-year-old man who was a week away from completing a jail sentence for joyriding.
Danny Viet Pham of Westminster was found dead in his cell last July 3. Prosecutors acknowledged for the first time publicly in a letter to Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, dated May 15 and released Tuesday, that they are pursuing charges against Pham’s cellmate, Marvin Magallanes, who is facing charges of killing two transients and was previously convicted of attempting to drive a car through the security gate at the home of television personality Kylie Jenner.
“Based upon a review of all the evidence provided to and obtained by the OCDA, and pursuant to applicable legal principles, it is our legal opinion that currently the evidence does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any employee of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department is criminally culpable for the death of inmate Pham,” Senior Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh wrote in the letter to Hutchens.
Due to the pending murder case against Magallanes, prosecutors did not detail why they came to the conclusion that no one could be charged at this time in Pham’s death. The letter leaves open the possibility that prosecutors could still pursue charges if more evidence surfaces.
The hang-up in filing a third murder charge against Magallanes is owed to his legal status in the two other murder cases. He is in the process of being reviewed by psychiatric experts to determine if he is mentally competent to assist his defense attorneys.
Attorney Michael Guisti, who is representing the Pham family, has filed a claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against the county. He criticized the decision not to file charges.
“I think it’s plain from all the facts that the actions of the sheriff’s department in putting Danny Pham with Magallanes in the first place was … going to undoubtedly lead to Danny Pham’s death,” Guisti said. “The DA has not even mentioned that Danny Pham’s demise began the moment he was placed in a cell with Magallanes, so I can’t put any credibility in the DA’s letter.
“And it brings no closure whatsoever to Danny Pham’s family, and we will proceed with our litigation.”
Four Orange County sheriff’s deputies and a correctional services assistant were put on paid leave last July after Pham was found dead in his cell, according to Carrie Braun of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. One of those deputies returned to work on July 31, she added.
When sheriff’s officials received the letter from prosecutors last week they began their own internal probe of the matter, Braun said.
A source said there is a four-hour gap in the time Pham’s cell was not checked, though deputy logs indicate the routine checks of Pham’s cell were done.
Magallanes, who is charged with the stabbing deaths of 52-year-old Onosai Tavita and 49-year-old Sabah Alsaad in Anaheim, was additionally charged in November with attacking an Orange County sheriff’s deputy while in custody.
The alleged fight with the deputy occurred about 4 a.m. last June 4 while the defendant was housed in a mental health module, sheriff’s officials said. When Magallanes was ordered to put his feet under a chair, he allegedly jumped up and began punching the deputy.