Two-year audit finds 30% of evidence was filed late, some by more than a month.
Four Orange County sheriff’s deputies have been fired after a two-year audit by the Sheriff’s Department found systemic abuses in the handling of evidence, the Southern California News Group has learned.
Fifteen deputies were criminally investigated in connection with the probe, but the District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges. Besides the four terminations, seven deputies were disciplined and four cases are pending. Sheriff’s officials offered no further information on the cases, citing a state police confidentiality law.
The explosive audit found that nearly one-third of the evidence collected from February 2016 to February 2018 was booked beyond the agency’s one-day policy. Some bookings were tardy by more than a month, creating questions about chain of custody. One official from the Public Defender’s Office said thousands of criminal cases could be affected.
The audit, obtained by the Southern California News Group, found that 30 percent of the evidence was booked late.
Sheriff’s spokesperson Carrie Braun said the department has improved the booking of evidence, which in most cases was kept by the deputies.
“The department (has taken) immediate measures to ensure personnel were educated on the policy and procedure for booking evidence. The department also developed procedures requiring supervisors to check that all property and evidence has been booked prior to approving any related reports,” Braun said.
District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he was not told of the wide-scale audit until Monday, although his office had been reviewing the individual cases.
See DA’s memo to Sheriff HERE
Spitzer said defense attorneys were notified in the cases that came to his office. He also has asked the Sheriff’s Department for more information so he can determine if further discovery must be sent to other defense attorneys.
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who for years has alleged that the Sheriff’s Department was withholding evidence from defense attorneys, criticized the agency for not releasing the results of the audit until contacted by the news group.
“Defendants had the right to know that this audit concluded that nearly all of the deputies in the field and jails during those two years kept … evidence in their cars, homes, desks or wherever else they wanted to store rather than booking it,” Sanders said. “God only knows how much evidence has been lost, mixed into other cases, kept, given to informants or concealed because it helped the defendant.”
Braun said the audit was initiated in January 2018 after the department learned that some evidence was not booked according to policy, which is at the end of the deputy’s shift. Investigators reviewed more than 27,000 evidence bookings and more than 1,500 deputies.
The audit showed a “lack of consistent and accurate entries,” “no system of accountability” and “insufficient booking software.” The audit also found that nearly 85 percent of the evidence was booked within five days, with 2 percent — or 418 pieces of evidence — booked after 20 to 30 days, and 1.5 percent — or 296 items of evidence — booked after 31 days.
The study also showed that 27 percent of the deputies had held onto evidence for 31 days or longer.
Among the worst offenders were deputies assigned to the north part of the county, averaging 4.3 days to book evidence.
The property held by deputies the longest were photos and videos, with 3.3 percent held longer than a month; and currency, with 2.6 percent held longer than a month. Less than 1 percent of the drug evidence — 37 items — was booked after a month.