Crime & Justice

Grand Jury Finds Violations of Procedures by Orange County Jail Deputies

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For almost a year, an Orange County criminal grand jury's been investigating the brutal murder of an inmate at the hands of other inmates. The grand jury's findings are out, and the information reveals widespread negligence by sheriff's deputies at the county's largest detention facility. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has more.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The findings reveal a violation of the public's trust. Sheriff's deputies at Theo Lacy Jail in Orange routinely slept on the job, watched TV when they should have been patrolling the jail, and denied medical care to inmates because of the paperwork involved. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas:

Tony Rackauckas: The main goal of the deputies described in this case was to do the least amount of work possible, while collecting their paychecks.

Guzman-Lopez: The most disturbing finding, Rackauckas said, is deputies' use of convicted criminals to enforce discipline at the 3,100 inmate facility. A year-and-a-half ago, John Derek Chamberlain was booked there for possessing child pornography and an open container of alcohol. A senior sheriff's deputy, the testimony reveals, leaked word to inmates that the 41-year-old Chamberlain was a child molester, an offense that often subjects an inmate to attack. Chamberlain was jumped by several inmates and beaten to death.

The grand jury report says a deputy responsible for monitoring the area where the attack happened was watching TV and sending text messages. The grand jury concluded Chamberlain's murder could have been prevented if deputies did their jobs. More than 300 sworn deputies work at the Theo Lacy lockup, less than a fifth of the department's total force. Acting Sheriff Jack Anderson defended the rest of his deputies.

Jack Anderson: This only represents a small group that we've identified to date. It is not representative of those who work hard every day and provide an ethical day's work.

Guzman-Lopez: Nevertheless, Anderson said, the findings are disturbing. He's pushing an internal investigation. For his part, D.A. Tony Rackauckas said his investigators have exhausted all leads. The 8,000 pages of testimony contain no evidence of criminal wrongdoing directly related to the jailhouse murder.

Rackauckas: The evidence has not been sufficient to file any criminal charge in any specific case. They're not getting a pass. I mean this whole thing is now, um, being put out in public and brought to light. People can see it, they can read the transcripts, their jobs are in jeopardy.

Guzman-Lopez: The deputies named in the investigation are still on the job, according to Sheriff Anderson, but his department's investigation could change that.

Anderson: I'm moving swiftly. I cannot speak now or in the future with regard to personnel matters, but I suspect that part of our investigation will include administrative leave, which is only a tool, not necessarily an indication of any wrongdoing, until the conclusion of our investigation.

Guzman-Lopez: Acting Sheriff Jack Anderson is scheduled to answer questions about that investigation at the next meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.