Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas asked the U.S. Attorney General Monday to open an investigation to put to rest “the naysayers” who believe in “conspiracy theories” about misuse of jailhouse informants in his office.
Rackauckas’ request came as a committee he formed to investigate the allegations informed him in a report today that they could only “analyze” the accusations and not “investigate” them because they lacked subpoena power.
Rackauckas told reporters he was”surprised” by the committee’s suggestion to have an outside agency investigate his office because he did not deny any requests for information, but added he was willing to go along with the proposal.
Rackauckas denied that any of his prosecutors willfully engaged in any misconduct in the use of jailhouse snitches and chalked it up mostly to poor management.
“We’ve always indicated we’re open and ready for such an inquiry and would cooperate with any inquiry,” the county’s top prosecutor said.
The report from the Informant Policies and Practices Evaluation Committee stems from allegations from Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders that his client, Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history, had his rights violated when informant Fernando Perez discussed details of Dekraai’s case.
It’s OK for informants to overhear information from another inmate and relay it to authorities. But if the defendant has an attorney, it’s illegal to solicit information from the inmate.
Orange County prosecutors have denied they intentionally violated Dekraai’s rights. Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals booted the District Attorney’s Office from the penalty trial phase for Dekraai, who pleaded guilty to his deadly rampage in and around a Seal Beach nail salon. Prosecutors are appealing that ruling.
Rackauckas heatedly denied his office engaged in any conspiracy to misuse the informants to pump them for information.
“No innocent person has been convicted,” Rackauckas said. “There’s no intent to have a network of informants going around violating people’s rights.”
The committee’s reports won’t “put to rest as I would like it to” the conspiracy theories, Rackauckas said.
“There’s no real reason to ask for the investigation other than to satisfy the naysayers,” Rackauckas said. “These allegations of a conspiracy just don’t exist.”
In his letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Rackauckas said he would offer justice officials “unfettered access to any documents and/or personnel” of his office.
He admitted it “stung” to read to the committee’s observation that much of the issues stemmed from poor management of the gang unit, Rackauckas conceded, however, that it was an accurate assessment and said two top supervisors have since retired and other prosecutors were rotated out of the unit.
Rackauckas and his supervisors said there has been extensive training of prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies since Sanders’ allegations made so many headlines in the Dekraai case on the use of informants.
The committee made 10 recommendations, most of which Rackauckas said he would adopt or has already put in place.
Among them are revising the office’s policies and procedures on the use of the snitches, which Rackauckas said he has already done. He has organized a committee in his office that reviews whether to use an informant.
The committee also found fault with the so-called Target Unit of gang prosecutors who work alongside police officers. Rackauckas conceded that it can lead less experienced prosecutors to be “too influenced” by law enforcement officers, so he is not putting “young, inexperienced” deputies in those positions.
The committee also recommended forming a Conviction Integrity Unit and a Chief Ethics Officer position and reinstating a Chief Assistant District Attorney position.
Rackauckas was non-committal on reinstating the Chief Assistant District Attorney position and was resistant to eliminating the Chief of Staff position held by Susan Kang Schroeder, who the committee recommended be named the Assistant District Attorney for Media Relations. Rackauckas said Schroeder does more than just media relations in his office.
Rackauckas said he supported the appointment of an independent monitor for three years to oversee the committee’s recommendations.
The committee said that while a large number of defense attorneys praised the “high ethical standards” by many prosecutors, “it became clear that over the years, some prosecutors at the OCDA’s Office adopted what the (committee) will refer to as a win-at-all-costs mentality.”
The committee recommended “changing the culture” by not “rewarding prosecutors with the ‘must win’ mentality with promotions.”
Rackauckas disagreed with that assessment, saying many of his prosecutors who did not have the greatest trial records have been promoted by their overall command of the law and other standards of the job.
The committee also faulted the office as a “ship without a rudder.”
Committee members said it was “admirable” that Rackauckas has entrusted much of the work to his senior deputies and supervisors, but added “there does not appear to be any consistent or clear cultural message emanating from the top down to the bottom of the organization. In short, the office suffers from what is best described as a failure of leadership.”
The committee said management was unaware of the “caseloads, use of jailhouse informants, and discovery challenges of deputy district attorneys in the Target, Gang and Homicide Units. The lack of oversight of these serious cases led to repeated legal errors that should have been identified and rectified by management long before the problems reached the current scale.”
The committee knocked Rackauckas’ office for “inconsistent procedures and practices” and also raised the issue of supervisors reluctant to pass on bad news because they are at-will employees.
Rackauckas said those managers always have the option to return to their previous posts, which are protected positions.
The committee also found an “ambivalence” to pass on concerns or issues because there’s a prevailing feeling that “nothing ever happens or changes” in the D.A.’s office.
–City News Service