DA defends decision not to charge sheriff’s employees in jail death

Sheriff’s deputies were suspected of setting up a jail inmate to be murdered or possibly ignoring the fatal beating as it was going on. Others were accused of lying under oath.

Supervising officers were investigated for falsifying documents and misleading prosecutors and the grand jury. Still other sheriff’s employees were questioned about ignoring orders that they keep quiet about secret grand jury testimony.

This was serious stuff.

But after a nine-month investigation into the controversial death of Theo Lacy jail inmate John Derek Chamberlain in October 2006, no one in a sheriff’s uniform has been charged with a crime.

That fact has brought heat on a special grand jury that indicted three inmates last month, and on Orange County District Attorney Attorney’s Office amid concern that his office was giving a pass to their law enforcement allies.

Not so, insists Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and the two prosecutors who called 79 witnesses before the special grand jury during the nine-month investigation.

Rackauckas said he was sure from the beginning that someone in the sheriff’s department would have to be charged in the case.

“I was perfectly willing to try the case to a jury,” he said. “The risk would be on me. I felt that that this situation was so grossly out of line, it had to rise the level of criminal charges.”

But, he claimed, the more his staff looked at the issues the more it became apparent that there were no criminal violations of law by sheriff’s personnel.

“We did absolutely everything we could to try to get there, including giving immunity to get the evidence that could lead to a conviction,” he said. “But at the end of the investigation, there was insufficient evidence to support any charges against Sheriff’s officials.”

But just because no charges were filed, Rackauckas said, that doesn’t mean that everyone in uniform got a pass.

There have been ramifications to sheriff’s personnel, he insisted. Two assistant sheriffs are out of a job in the wake of the investigation. Five deputies were placed on administrative leave by Acting Sheriff Jack Anderson, the first step towards termination of employment. One deputy, who revealed her grand jury testimony to an ex-boyfriend who is also an internal affairs investigator, was fired.

Anderson has also asked the FBI to explore the possibility of filing federal charges against some sheriff’s personnel for their roles in the Chamberlain case. A federal prosecutor could conceivably charge deputies with depriving Chamberlain of his civil rights, such as right to personal liberty or his right to life.

Bringing in the FBI is “absolutely, the right thing to do,” agreed Laurie Levinson, a professor of criminal law at Loyola University. “It probably should have been done a lot sooner.”

She said, “This is something that federal authorities are very good at, and they have more tools to get the job done and a lot more expertise…It is well worth letting the feds take a look”

Levinson added that she was not surprised the grand jury did not indict anyone from the sheriff’s department.

“The real issue is can they prove a case? You may have high levels of suspicion, but before you can charge anyone in law enforcement, you better have all your ducks in a row because jurors just don’t want to believe that this could happen.”

Rackauckas also said the grand jury transcripts have been made public and his office focused public attention on poor judgments and poor behavior by sheriff’s employees.

“That’s not a pass,” he said. “They have been spotlighted. People know what they did over there.”

source: http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/news/politics/chamberlain/article_2020379.php

One Response

  1. In a nation wherein “In GOD We Trust” has become a mere creed on the money upon which it is printed, corruption and wickedness exist on both sides of the badge and the bars. Yet, are they bad men just because they made some bad choices? Do not all of us have A’s and F’s on our moral report cards? As I so stated on my blog, http://www.victoryNchrist.net we can’t fix it IF we can’t face it. I dare anyone who wants to fix their F’s to read that textbook and then to trust in GOD…and that’s my final answer!

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