Crime & Justice

Orange County seeks help with sheriff oversight

A visiting booth at the Theo Lacy Facility jail in Orange County, Calif. where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees are housed in space that the federal government contracts from the county.
A visiting booth at the Theo Lacy Facility jail in Orange County, Calif. where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees are housed in space that the federal government contracts from the county.
Orange County Sheriff's Department

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Orange County lawmakers are having trouble deciding how to effectively oversee the O.C. Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office. The Orange County Board of Supervisors Monday will discuss hiring a consultant to help them out. 

The proposal in question would enter the county into a $10,000 per month contract with attorney Michael Gennaco through the end of the year.  He would attend meetings on developing a new police oversight model for the county, offer advice, and help draft related ordinances and policies.

Gennaco was lead attorney for the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review that provided oversight for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for over a decade. County supervisors decided not to renew that contract after developing a new oversight model last year. 

“Mr. Gennaco will have an attorney-client relationship with the Board of Supervisors and Orange County law enforcement agencies,” according to the staff report on the proposed contract.

The call for a new type of oversight model arose in June, when Orange County supervisors soured on their current independent monitor. They complained they weren't notified in a timely manner about issues with the use of jail house informants

But replacing the current model has come with a short deadline.

The current contract with attorney Stephen Connolly who heads the county's Office of Independent Review ends August 31. And an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice notified the county last month it had concerns about the sheriff’s department having no oversight if a new model wasn’t put in place before that contract ended.

The DOJ has had an open investigation into the O.C. Sheriff’s Department regarding jail violence and deputy behavior stemming from a 2006 inmate death.   

The federal justice department also told county supervisors and counsel that it was keeping an eye on the fallout from the jailhouse informant scandal involving the District Attorney's Office and sheriff's deputies.

That incident led to the D.A.'s office being removed from the case against Scott Dekraai, the man accused of shooting and killing eight people at a Seal Beach salon in 2011. 

Supervisors are proposing the county extend the current contract with Connolly through December to run the O.C. Office of Independent Review to monitor the sheriff's department until a new model can be developed. He would be paid $17,500 per month, a $765 vehicle allowance, and reimbursements.

The O.C. Office of Independent Review monitors complaints against sheriff's department employees, reviews internal investigations and advises decision makers on discipline. The Office has access to department records, but it doesn’t conduct its own investigations and has no power to force the department to take action.

Last month, experts on policing, civil rights and oversight told supervisors the county oversight agency lacked the necessary teeth to do the job. It does not have subpoena power.

Orange County supervisors are expected to discuss the contracts on Monday and vote on them on Tuesday.