The union representing Orange County sheriff’s deputies Friday filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Don Barnes and the county alleging sheriff’s personnel are being punished for invoking their right against self-incrimination.
The case stems from an internal investigation of three sheriff’s deputies who invoked their Fifth Amendment rights related to the so-called snitch scandal that grew out of the prosecution of Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history.
“This case involves the county’s attempt to further extinguish its employees constitutional rights,” the federal lawsuit alleges. “More specifically, the county has created a new policy and/or practice of subjecting its sheriff’s department employees to disciplinary investigations, disciplinary interrogations and discipline itself merely because the employee elected to invoke his or her constitutional right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.”
Barnes denied the claims in a statement.
“The department fully understands the constitutional protections afforded to all people, including those rights that extend to our employees,” Barnes said. “Those rights, however, do not prevent, nor will it deter, me from holding employees accountable for violating department policy or failing to meet our expectations of performance.”
The lawsuit accused county officials of using threats and intimidation of leasing their jobs if they seek the shelter of the Fifth Amendment.
The union represents all non-management employees in the sheriff’s department.
The lawsuit alleges that when deputies Seth Tunstall, Bill Grove and Ben Garcia invoked their rights against self-incrimination they were told by county officials that they were violating county policy and could face disciplinary action up to termination.
The three have been repeatedly cited in legal motions filed by Dekraai’s attorney, Scott Sanders, an Orange County Public Defender, who convinced a judge to dismiss the Orange County District Attorney’s Office as Dekraai’s prosecutors.
After the Attorney General’s Office took over the case, Sanders convinced the judge to take the death penalty away as an option for prosecutors, prompting Dekraai’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole for his massacre of eight people in a Seal Beach beauty salon.
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