Excessive Force Controversy Continues To Annoy OC Deputy Union

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Deputies reject criticism

​Sheriff's deputy union officials are privately continuing to lobby Tony Rackauckas in an effort to get the district attorney to flip-flop on his May 2009 assertion that several deputies gave untruthful testimony to protect another officer accused of twice using a Taser as a weapon of torture on a handcuffed Latino suspect sitting in  a patrol car.

Disgusted prosecutors say Deputy Christopher Hibbs won acquittal after his colleagues developed sudden cases of amnesia on the witness stand, outright lied in testimony or both, in a "code of silence" tactic to sabotage the case. Hibbs defended his actions by claiming he believed the surrounded, disarmed and restrained suspect might have intended to harm him. But the veteran deputy was less clear why his official department report of the incident omitted any mention of the Taser attack that left the man screaming in pain.

In the aftermath of the trial in Fullerton, the DA's office held a press conference to blast the deputies who aided Hibbs. Rackauckas said the integrity of the justice system collapses when cops can't be trusted to tell the truth. That move infuriated both Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and officials at the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS), who asserted there was no evidence of misconduct by any deputy. Indeed, Hutchens called her own press conference to say deputies don't lie to protect one another. She also questioned the professionalism of prosecutors for publicly undermining the credibility of her department. Union officials demanded that the DA fire Susan Kang Schroeder, his media affairs counsel, for unnecessarily inflammatory comments they say she made to reporters. He declined.

After a flurry of media coverage, the controversy--which was first revealed by the Weekly--subsided. But top AOCSD officials are still seeking to influence Rackauckas and The Orange County Register. They've won mixed result. 

I'm told the DA has agreed to assign one of his senior assistants to once again review the union's complaint. Also, in the last weeks of 2009, the union encouraged a Register reporter to write a news article that ridicules Rackauckas' stance as factually disingenuous.

Hutchens, who was appointed to replace convicted felon Mike Carona as sheriff in 2008, and Rackauckas have a history of sparring. In her first weeks in office in 2008, the sheriff told Rackauckas to mind his own business after prosecutors complained that deputies repeatedly gave special treatment to a fellow deputy suspected of being a serial pedophile. Incredibly, veteran deputies allowed the target to secretly monitor their investigation of him and, despite strong evidence of his sex crimes, asked the DA's office to drop the case. That deputy, Gerald Stenger, committed suicide in his patrol car after being tipped that DA investigators were planning to arrest him.

In 2006, amid inmate cries that a deputy sanctioned the jailhouse murder of inmate John Derek Chamberlain, the sheriff department adamantly refused to give DA investigators crime scene access until after deputies sanitized the area from evidence. Later, department officials lied and hid documents from an investigating grand jury.

      In 2007, prosecutors complained that sheriff investigators repeatedly botched their probe of a deputy who forced as many as 12 Orange County prostitutes to give him sexual favors; the DA's office nevertheless managed to win a conviction.

      Last month, an OCSD deputy was convicted of lying to protect a fellow off-duty deputy caught illegally poaching underage lobsters in Dana Point Harbor. The deputy sought to dissuade a game warden from issuing a ticket by pretending his colleague was an important confidential source who shouldn't be forced to give his name. The ruse failed when the game warden became suspicious.  

--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly

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