Orange County DA launched fake probes to shield records from disclosure, public defender charges
Feb. 14, 2020
Attorney asks judge to lift a protective order on a 31-page report on a sheriff's deputy who mishandled evidence in 74 cases
The Orange County Public Defender’s Office has accused District Attorney Todd Spitzer of conducting fake probes against 17 sheriff’s deputies so he won’t have to disclose secret details in the growing evidence scandal.
In a motion filed Thursday, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders said Spitzer’s real motive was to exempt the deputies’ records from public disclosure, not do any real investigating into mishandled evidence. Sanders asked Superior Court Judge Cheryl Leininger to remove a protective order placed by Spitzer on a 31-page report on Deputy Bryce Simpson, who booked evidence late or not at all in 74 cases .
The legal wrangling is part of a theft case investigated by seven-year veteran Simpson. His missteps were uncovered as part of a two-year sheriff’s audit that found evidence was mishandled in nearly one-third of all department cases. Simpson and 14 other deputies were reported to the District Attorney’s Office in 2018 and 2019 for consideration of charges, but prosecutors declined.
Spitzer, however, reopened the investigation into the 15 deputies and added another two, for a total of 17, after news of the audit broke in the Orange County Register in November. Until that point, Spitzer said he had been unaware of the department-wide audit.
Two of the errant deputies have been promoted to investigator since prosecutors first declined to file charges, and are eligible to be called as witnesses in criminal cases, the motion says. Those deputies could refuse to testify for fear of self-incrimination, says the motion, “creating important ripple effects in countless cases.”
Sanders’ motion said Spitzer’s would-be gambit to keep secret details of the evidence scandal should “shock the conscious.” A hearing before Judge Leininger is scheduled for Feb. 18.
The District Attorney’s Office did not return a request for comment late Thursday.
Meanwhile, the D.A.’s Office and Sheriff’s Department are conducting a three-year audit of more than 22,000 cases, looking for more mishandled evidence.