District Attorney Seeks to Grab DNA Crime Lab from Sheriff

While county supervisors struggle to pick a replacement for indicted ex-sheriff Mike Carona, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas is seeking to rob the Orange County Sheriff's Department of its nationally-recognized forensic DNA crime lab.

According to a newly released county staff report for the upcoming June 3 supervisors meeting, Rackauckas wants the board to remove sheriff's control over the unit "in order to streamline processes, improve communication and maximize operational efficiencies."

If Rackauckas succeeds, he'll be California's first prosecutor to wrestle control of DNA issues from an existing sheriff's crime lab, several law enforcement sources say. The DA claims the change makes sense for numerous reasons, including that the sheriff's crime lab personnel haven't been adequately prioritizing their work to help prosecutors preparing for trial.

"The Orange County District Attorney's Office is the only organization capable of harnessing the vast potential of forensic DNA technology for our community," Rackauckas writes in the staff report.

Not surprisingly, some Sheriff's Department officials vehemently oppose the transfer. One high-ranking official there told me the proposal "is nothing more than a blatant power grab before we get a new sheriff."

Though Rackauckas writes that the proposal "is designed to increase accountability," the plan arrives with an ominous backdrop outlined by this publication in a March 13, 2008, column:

In the wake of a November 2005, OC Weekly article detailing how a 20-year-old Buena Park man faced prison for a robbery/carjacking he didn’t commit, prosecutors asked the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) crime lab to alter key exculpatory evidence.


That story can be read in full here.

Despite that ugly controversy, Rackauckas insists that his office is better suited than the OCSD "to ensure fairness in the criminal justice system, to exonerate those wrongly accused, to help protect our citizens and to enhance support for victims of crime."

But, oddly, Rackauckas didn't consult Acting Sheriff Jack Anderson in advance. "I haven't been asked for any input and I haven't yet seen the District Attorney's proposal," he tells me. "I don't know if its a good business model or not. He hasn't shown me anything. I've got a lot of questions."

—R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly



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