Orange County DA’s Informant Program

The  Huffington Post has published moving papers from a high-profile Orange County case that provides new information on the controversial jailhouse informant program run by the DA:

“After almost three years of denials, the Orange County District Attorney’s office finally acknowledged Thursday that the county has a jailhouse informant program.

Of course, the existence of the informant program should come as no surprise. Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders has been arguing since 2013 that a tainted snitch network in county jails has existed in secret for decades. In a series of blockbuster motions, the defense attorney unearthed damning evidence that clearly pointed to the program’s existence, alleging that county prosecutors and police have violated multiple defendants’ rights by illegally obtaining and sometimes withholding evidence gleaned from jail informants.

Thursday’s formal admission came in court documents filed by the OCDA office detailing 1,157 pages of notes kept by sheriff’s deputies about inmates and informants in county jails. The notes, kept secret until recently, were recorded from September 2008 to January 2013.

The cache of notes “reveals that jail special handling deputies recruited and utilized numerous informers,” Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner wrote in a motion Thursday. “The informers were often kept in a particular sector. In exchange for their information, informers were given favors by deputies such as phone calls and visits.”

What’s more, Wagner says, the log contradicts statements made by several witnesses, including police, and may also contradict some evidence previously presented in the Scott Dekraai case, the largest mass-murder case in county history.

Law enforcement authorities deploy informants to help bolster a case — a tactic that’s perfectly legal, even when the snitch receives something in exchange. But Sanders alleges that in some Orange County cases, informants held recorded and unrecorded conversations with inmates who were already represented by lawyers, which violates an inmate’s right to counsel. Prosecutors then took damning evidence gathered by the informants and presented it in court, while withholding evidence that could have been beneficial to the defense — which is a violation of a defendant’s right to due process.

The log mentions informant names throughout and frequent informant interaction with “numerous” and “high-profile” inmates, Wagner writes. In the log, the deputies refer to various activities with inmates and informants as “plans,” “capers” and “operations,” and came up with “self-styled” code names for these activities like “Operation Okie Doke,” the court documents read. The log also mentions outside law enforcement agencies interacting with the deputies who manage inmates and informants. Detectives who testified during the Dekraai case, according to the notes, also inquired about running “operations” within the jail.

The log sheds new light on interactions between Sheriff’s Deputy William Grover and Fernando Perez, a Mexican mafia leader who later became a prolific informant for the county and had separate contact with both Dekraai and another man accused of murder, Daniel Wozniak, while in jail. This contact, which county prosecutors previously portrayed as coincidental, appears to be intentional, according to log entries.

Just weeks after his arrest, Wozniak was placed in the same housing tank as Perez — who had been housed there just one day earlier. Then, just days before police interviewed Perez about conversations he’d had with Wozniak, a log entry from Grover indicates that he wanted the relationship between Wozniak and Perez to “marinate.”

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