Crime & Justice

OC sheriff investigating its own use of jailhouse informants

Three inmates escaped from the Orange County Central Men's Jail on January 22, 2016. The facility was built in 1968.
Three inmates escaped from the Orange County Central Men's Jail on January 22, 2016. The facility was built in 1968.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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Orange County sheriff’s officials have assigned an investigative sergeant to monitor how and if jailhouse informants will be used with the Sheriff's consultation after deputies failed to disclose records to the court on the department’s inmate informant program.

Dozens of notes about logs that tracked interactions with jailhouse informants from 2008 to 2013 were released this week during a court hearing for a double murder case in which an informant was used during the investigation.

Originally, officials say, deputies failed to disclose the notes and their superiors didn't know the records existed.

The case at hand involves Daniel Patrick Wozniak, 31, convicted of killing a woman and man in 2010. His defense attorney, public defender Scott Sanders is trying to convince a judge not to sentence his client to death.

Sanders has argued county prosecutors and deputies routinely omit evidence on jailhouse informants that the defense has the legal right to view, like in the Wozniak case.

Orange County Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Mark Stichter said upper command staff was not aware that the notes on inmate informants existed and deputies who kept them say they didn’t realize the defense was entitled to the material.

“For us it becomes a matter of making it a teachable moment,” Stichter said. “Discuss and continue training on what is discoverable as a law enforcement officer and the notes that you keep.”

This isn’t the first time the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has been called out in court for not disclosing records to defense attorneys about jailhouse informants.

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has been in hot water for the past year over how her deputies have mishandled information about the department's inmate informant program.

The state attorney general’s office launched a criminal investigation March 2015 into at least two deputies suspected of lying in court about records kept inside the jails on informants. A representative from the California Attorney General's office declined to comment Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department also has an internal, administrative investigation ongoing. Stichter said no one has been placed on administrate leave because of it.

"We've chosen to accept the fact that this has happened," he said. "We're going to continue to get better. We have gotten better."

Stichter said the notes that were disclosed this week in court were the result of an assignment from Hutchens in February after a deputy had revealed in a separate murder case that he kept years worth of notes about a jailhouse informant but didn’t divulge them.

Hutchens asked a team to see if there were any other deputies who might have additional notes, records, documents or information about the department’s informant program.

There are 10 deputies who are in the special handling unit that work with jailhouse informants, according to Stichter. They are part of a larger “classifications unit” of approximately 40 other deputies that work in the jails. 

The Orange County District Attorney’s office released a statement on Tuesday saying they were not aware of the notes that were recently released despite having visited the sheriff’s department asking for records.

“The OCDA expects police officers to tell the truth and pursue justice,” the statement said. “The OCDA finds it distressing that these notes would be withheld from the OCDA, the court and the public until this hearing.”

So far, at least six criminal cases, some of them murder cases, have been affected by information on jailhouse informants that has surfaced late, and in some cases, years after conviction.