SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – An Orange County grand jury report released Tuesday said no evidence exists that prosecutors are using an unconstitutional secret jailhouse informant program for criminal investigations.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office became mired in controversy after it was accused of prosecutorial misconduct in the case of mass murderer Scott Dekraai, who shot his ex-wife and seven others at a Seal Beach, California, beauty salon in 2011.
His criminal defense attorney accused the Orange County district attorney of an illegal practice of planting jailhouse informants and claimed that prosecutors had kept the program hidden from the public for 30 years.
But the 28-page report, entitled “The Myth of the Orange County Jailhouse Informant Program,” says that while prosecutors make use of in-custody informants, the grand jury “found no definitive evidence of a structured jailhouse informant program.”
“Allegations of intentional motivation by a corrupt district attorney’s office and a conspiracy with a corrupt sheriff’s department to violate citizen’s constitutional rights are unfounded,” the report states. “Disparate facts have been woven together and a combination of conjecture and random events have been juxtaposed to create a tenuous narrative insinuating nefarious intent. That narrative does not stand up to factual validation.”
The scandal became a national news story when the New York Times called for a federal probe into the District Attorney’s Office and 60 Minutes covered the story earlier this year.
“To date, there has been significant media coverage, finger pointing, and much speculative rhetoric published, but the actual facts surrounding the use of in-custody informants remain unreported,” the grand jury report states.
Despite a few discovery violations in the Dekraai case, the panel said that it was confident that no evidence supports wide-ranging misconduct in the district attorney’s office, adding that the investigation into the office had “devolved into a witch-hunt for agency corruption.”
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in a statement that the grand jury’s report had been triple-corroborated and reviewed by experts. The “title of the report says it all,” he added.
The grand jury “was diligent in their efforts and spent more than 3,500 hours seeking out and reviewing evidence, they read over 40,000 pages of documentation, of which our office provided more than 8,000 pages, listened to dozens of hours of informant tape recordings, and interviewed more than 150 people during their investigation into the criminal justice system in Orange County,” he said.
In a news release, the district attorney’s office said that the public defender had whipped up the scandal to help his client avoid the death penalty. The attorney claimed prosecutors had deliberately placed Dekraai in a cell next to a jailhouse snitch to gather incriminating statements, in violation of his civil rights.
“The media, despite being presented with the truth on multiple occasions by the OCDA, reported whatever the public defender said, which was then parroted by law professors and retired politicians without doing any investigation,” the news release says.
While numerous instances of prosecutors abusing the use of jailhouse snitches do exist, Orange’s use of informants “mirrors that of jurisdictions across the nation,” the report states.
The Justice Department announced late last year that it is investigating the district attorney’s office. That investigation is ongoing, along with another by the California Attorney General’s Office.