Crime & Justice

OC Sheriff Faces Supervisors Over Grand Jury Report

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A group of Orange County Sheriff's department employees has been suspended with pay following the beating death of an inmate by fellow inmates. The sheriff has also asked the FBI to investigate whether inmates' civil rights were violated at the Theo Lacy Jail. Acting Sheriff Jack Anderson made that announcement to the Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. As KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports, the sheriff promised several reforms to address serious breaches of professional conduct uncovered in a grand jury report on the inmate's death.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Dressed in full uniform, Sheriff Jack Anderson stood at the podium facing the five supervisors and repeated the grand jury's findings: deputies at the Theo Lacy jail slept, surfed the internet, sent text messages, and watched TV when they should have been guarding inmates. Some even ordered prisoners to use force against fellow inmates when they got out of line.

Sheriff Jack Anderson: The actions and behaviors described within the grand jury report are the absolute antithesis of our responsibility to ensure and protect justice and safety for those whom we've sworn to serve and protect.

Guzman-Lopez: Anderson said his department's investigation of the grand jury findings led to a decision to place six employees on administrative leave, and firings are likely. The sheriff said he thinks he can get rid of a "culture of laziness" by changing shift schedules. The department is also overhauling its video camera system, and removing some walls at the Theo Lacy jail so guards can keep an eye on inmates all the time. Supervisor Chris Norby told Anderson tougher supervision of deputies is key.

Supervisor Chris Norby: In this case, most of the policies that we had were correct, it's just that they weren't followed through on. And so it's not a matter of really changing a lot of policies, but simply enforcing them.

Guzman-Lopez: Sheriff Anderson told the supervisors he's invited the FBI to help investigate possible civil rights violations. Criminal violations would be forwarded to the Orange County District Attorney. On Monday, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said the grand jury testimony provided no solid evidence of criminal behavior on the part of deputies who were on duty during a jailhouse murder a year and a half ago.

That incident led to the formation of the grand jury. According to testimony, deputies did not man their posts while groups of inmates beat to death a 41 year old man they falsely believed was a child molester. Supervisor John Moorlach is the chair of the Orange County Board.

Supervisor John Moorlach: Acting Sheriff Anderson, the complacency's got to stop.
Anderson: Yes.
Moorlach: Good cops should not protect bad cops. This code of silence has to change.

Guzman-Lopez: To show his department's resolve, Anderson shared part of a speech the new commander of the Theo Lacy jail delivered to his deputies and staff the morning the grand jury report became public.

Anderson: We are not a secret society. We are in the business of telling the truth and acting professionally. Everything we do and say is open to public review.

Guzman-Lopez: Sheriff Anderson says he knows his efforts to reform a troubled department are under a microscope. Anderson's the acting sheriff while the board picks a replacement for former sheriff Mike Carona, who is facing federal corruption charges.