An Orange County District Attorney’s Office investigator who claims he’s been subjected to retaliation for being a whistleblower has been placed on “house arrest,” meaning he cannot report to work and must stay at home during business hours, his attorney said Friday.
The District Attorney’s Office, however, said the attorney is spreading “misinformation” and insisted the office “did not take any disciplinary action against or punish” investigator Tom Conklin.
Conklin’s attorney, Joel Baruch, said that in addition to being placed on paid administrative leave, Conklin was ordered to turn over his county- issued badge and gun.
Conklin filed a claim — the precursor to a lawsuit — against the county in May, along with another investigator, Abe Santos, who say they were both subjected to retaliation for pointing out alleged improprieties in the District Attorney’s Office.
The claims from Conklin and Santos came on the heels of a whistleblower claim filed against the county by their former boss, Craig Hunter, who was placed on leave by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
Conklin must “stay at home during normal working hours for an undetermined period,” according to Baruch.
“This job action was undertaken to punish investigator Conklin because he had the temerity to come forward and risk everything in order to expose wrongdoing at the highest levels of the District Attorney’s Office,” Baruch said in a statement.
Baruch claimed the moves were a precursor to firing his client.
“Both investigator Conklin and his partner, Abe Santos, another honest cop who also blew the whistle on the unlawful and unethical practices at the District Attorney’s Office, have experienced job retaliation after cooperating with an investigation into their recent government tort claims being conducted by Orange County County Counsel,” Baruch said.
“Undoubtedly, DA Rackauckas is sending a message to the other honest district attorney investigators and deputy district attorneys in the DA’s office to keep their mouths shut.”
Michelle Van Der Linden, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, issued a statement denying any discipline or punishment of Conklin. He does not have to be home during regular working hours — just be available by phone during the business day, she said.
The DA’s Office “is reluctant to place anyone on paid administrative leave,” she said. “Careful consideration was given to a full review of the facts and in consultation with County Counsel.”
Conklin was placed on administrative leave Thursday night, Baruch said.
The county has hired outside counsel to investigate the claims of Conklin and Santos, who had to cooperate or be fired for insubordination, Baruch said. Investigators met with Conklin on June 28 and Santos on July 6, Baruch said.
Baruch said Conklin was put on leave because the District Attorney’s Office alleges he “leaked” a report on Rackauckas investigating his chief rival, Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who has announced a campaign to unseat the district attorney. Baruch said “there is no substance to the claim” that his client leaked any reports to the media.
Van Der Linden said in her statement: “Obviously, police reports should not be leaked to any unauthorized person or organizations. Any government action should be taken based on admissible evidence and not rumors or allegations.”
Santos remains on duty, Baruch said.
Conklin earlier claimed that attorney Cameron Talley, when he was a prosecutor, asked Conklin to sit on evidence until after the sentencing of Stephenson Choi Kim, who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for shooting five people, killing one, in a Cypress cafe 13 years ago.
According to Conklin’s claim, when Kim’s attorneys complained that former Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office investigator Susan White, who was working for Cypress police at the time, perjured herself during the trial, Conklin investigated the allegations.
When Conklin concluded the defense attorneys were right that White’s testimony and work on the case had issues, he confronted Talley about it. Conklin claimed Talley told him it would be “preferable” if Conklin waited to say his investigation was done until after sentencing, according to his claim.
“In other words, DDA Talley did not want to advise the defense about investigator Conklin’s investigation into the Susan White matter since he was concerned that it might result in a new trial for Choi Kim,” according to Conklin’s claim.
Conklin’s report was passed on to retired Deputy District Attorney Aleta Bryant to determine if charges should be filed against White, but she determined the allegations could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, according to Conklin.
Conklin further claimed that Talley “yelled” at him about being a “de facto investigator for the defense and doing the defense’s dirty work.”
Santos’ claim includes explosive allegations of corruption not only in the District Attorney’s Office, but also among Fullerton police in the handling of drunken driving allegations against former City Manager Joe Felz, who crashed his car into a tree on election night last year.
Felz told a responding officer he was the city manager and to call then- Chief Dan Hughes, who has since taken an executive security job at Disneyland.
Santos claims Hughes sent Sgt. Jeff Corbett to give Felz a ride home because the chief could count on Corbett to handle the matter discreetly as Hughes allegedly gave Corbett a break after the sergeant was caught having sex in his police vehicle while on duty.
Santos concluded that Hughes had “obstructed justice” and told his boss, Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh, that he was concerned the DUI and obstruction of justice allegations would be covered up.
“ADA Baytieh’s response was, `I am friends with Chief Hughes and we are only going to be investigating the DUI and not anything else,”‘ according to Santos.
Felz was charged in March with DUI and hit-and-run with property damage, both misdemeanors.
— City News Service
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