Nick Gerda/Voice of OC
Amid an ongoing scandal over misuse of jailhouse informants, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens received unanimous approval from county supervisors Tuesday to hire a “constitutional policing” advisor who would report directly to her.
The job, Hutchens said, will go to a law enforcement expert who will essentially act as an “insurance policy” for the county by proactively examining issues in the Sheriff’s Department that could lead to lawsuits. Her request comes on the heels of the resignation of Steve Connolly, the embattled director of the Office of Independent Review (OIR), which was created in 2008 after the jail beating death of John Chamberlain.
The U.S. Department of Justice began monitoring the county’s jails in response to Chamberlain’s death, and in spring 2014 it seemed to be close to wrapping up without legal action against the county.
But that all changed after the informants scandal made national headlines and supervisors announced plans to de-fund the OIR oversight office – a move they later reversed. In July, Justice Department officials said they would be keeping that jails investigation open as they monitor the informant allegations and the future of the OIR.
That federal scrutiny is a key reason for the new advisor job, Hutchens told supervisors Tuesday before the vote.
“I think it’s an important position, given that we still have the [Justice Department] still looking at our jails, and San Bernardino County was just sued by the Prison Law Office,” Hutchens said.
And though Hutchens didn’t mention the jailhouse informants scandal Tuesday, there have been many calls for increased scrutiny of the department and the district attorney’s office since revelations that sheriff’s deputies and DA prosecutors violated the rights of criminal defendants by not disclosing key evidence regarding informants to defense attorneys. A judge has also accused deputies of committing perjury, which they dispute.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he supported the position as part of a larger effort to increase oversight of local law enforcement. “I think the public has lost of lot of confidence in law enforcement,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer led his questioning Tuesday by asking the sheriff how she plans to recruit for the position.
Hutchens said she’d run an open recruitment, and wants an attorney who is a “police oversight specialist, preferably someone with civil rights experience.”
County insiders have hinted that Connolly, who has drawn harsh criticism from supervisors and others who feel his office has not lived up to its mission, might be Hutchens’ top choice for the new position. Connolly told the Orange County Register this week that he’s considering whether to apply for the job.
Hutchens said her new advisor wouldn’t be advising her on legal cases, but rather how to improve policies and procedures when it comes to deputy-involved shootings and other issues.