The Open File has taken stock of the ongoing jailhouse informant scandal surrounding the Orange County District Attorney’s office and the Orange County Sheriff’s office with some regularity over the past few years. Remarkably, the fallout continues three years after People v. Dekraai brought the county’s unconstitutional secret snitch program to light. Before we provide an update on the latest developments, here’s a quick walk down memory lane:
- July 8, 2014: the snitch network was exposed in evidentiary hearings that took place in the Dekraai case
- October 2, 2014: it became clear that several high-profile violent crime prosecutions were being compromised and dismissed because of widespread prosecutorial misconduct involving the snitch program
- March 12, 2015: the trial court removed the Orange County District Attorney’s office from further proceedings in the Dekraai case because of its misconduct
- March 20, 2015: local journalists document the fallout, and begin wondering aloud whether DA Tony Rackauckas should resign
- October 16, 2015: in response to the scandal, the California legislature passed a new law requiring judges to report prosecutors who withhold exculpatory evidence to the state bar
- November 18, 2015: a prominent group of prosecutors, scholars, and organizations across the country called upon the Department of Justice to investigate the scandal
- November 23, 2016: despite the state’s appeal, a California court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to remove the OCDA from the Dekraai case
- December 22, 2016: the Department of Justice opened a historic investigation into the snitch scandal, specifically targeting the OCDA and the Sheriff’s office
Plenty more has happened in 2017. Yesterday, 60 Minutes aired a 15-minute segment on the snitch scandal featuring interviews with DA Tony Rackauckas, Mr. Dekraai’s lawyer Scott Sanders, and a long-time OC jailhouse informant.
In his interview, Rackauckas denied point-blank that a snitch network ever existed. He also claimed that the informant in the Dekraai case—the one whose identity launched a defense investigation that exposed the county’s illegal and undisclosed snitch program—was not intentionally placed in a prime position to extract information from the defendant. Rackauckas answered questions with the same reckless disregard for the truth that so many of his jailhouse informants have exhibited. In what may come to be seen as an ill-advised comment, Rackauckas said that he and his fellow prosecutors “should be in jail” if Mr. Sanders’s allegations prove to be true. Unfortunately for the OCDA, that ship set sail in 2015 when Judge Goethals removed the entire office from prosecuting Mr. Dekraai, noting:
It is now apparent that the discovery situation in this case is far worse than the court previously realized. In fact, a wealth of potentially relevant discovery material–an entire computerized data base built and maintained by the Orange County Sheriff over the course of many years which is a repository for information related directly to the very issues that this court was examining as a result of the defendant’s motion–remained secret, despite numerous specific discovery orders issued by this court, until long after the initial evidentiary hearing in this case was concluded and rulings were made.
And if there were any lingering doubt, Rackauckas squashed it in last night’s interview. He claimed that his lawyers never withheld exculpatory evidence. Courts have found that claim to be false time and time again.
The DA’s defense of his office collapses under the least bit of scrutiny. Just last week, Judge Goethals dismissed first-degree murder charges against defendant Cole Wilkins because of “the ‘serious misconduct’ of former prosecutor Michael Murray who failed to act when notified that a traffic report was altered in way that helped the prosecution.” Indeed, the OCDA has actually been striking sweetheart deals in several cases to limit the number of similar judicial findings. In this way, Rackauckas and his crew may be suppressing the best evidence of suppression. If truth-telling is a science, lying is an art. The OCDA is quite an artist.
We would be remiss if we did not share the most comprehensive database of coverage on this topic. R. Scott Moxley, a dogged reporter for the OC Weekly compiled links to his many, many articles providing unsurpassed detail and insight on the scandal.
Needless to say, this is a situation that will continue to develop in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, we can let Rackauckas’s statement that prosecutors should be jailed if they engage in this kind of misconduct really sink in.