5 suspended in O.C. jail case
Orange County Acting Sheriff Jack Anderson suspended five employees Tuesday and called for an FBI investigation after the release of grand jury transcripts that showed Theo Lacy jail guards relying on inmates to enforce order while they watched TV, slept, played video games and engaged in cellphone text chats.
The paid suspensions include the three jailers on duty in October 2006 when John Derek Chamberlain was tortured, sodomized and beaten to death by fellow inmates during an attack that lasted nearly an hour not far from the glass-enclosed guard station.
Also suspended were an internal affairs investigator who allegedly pressured a grand jury witness to reveal her testimony to him, and a women’s jail guard who admitted to the grand jury investigating Chamberlain’s death that she had lied during a previous appearance before it.
In an interview, Anderson said he had launched what would become the largest internal affairs investigation in the history of his department. The investigation will likely involve interviews with dozens if not hundreds of current and former Theo Lacy employees, he said.
“I’ve given orders to find everybody identified in the grand jury report and move forward,” he said. “I can’t think of a lower standard they were acting at. This is clearly a case of supervisors not doing their jobs and deputies who felt it was OK to behave this way.”
He said the grand jury transcripts painted an unsettling picture of the jail system and illustrated a complete breakdown in command structure: “Where were the sergeants? There was a failure to supervise and failure to manage.”
At Theo Lacy, some 25 sergeants, seven lieutenants and one captain monitored about 400 deputies and correctional officers. If sergeants had been properly keeping watch, Anderson said, they certainly would have noticed deputies watching movies and sending cellphone text messages when they should have been prowling the jail checking on inmates.
Anderson also invited the FBI to investigate possible violations of Chamberlain’s civil rights. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the agency had agreed to meet with Anderson and other Orange County officials to determine whether an inquiry was warranted.
Chamberlain, charged with possessing child pornography, was killed Oct. 5, 2006, by inmates who mistakenly believed he was charged with child molestation -- information that inmates say was provided to them by a jail deputy.
The 7,000 transcript pages show that policy violations appeared to contribute to Chamberlain’s death, and that during the grand jury investigation, deputies and high-ranking officials lied, tampered with evidence, shared information about evidence and lines of questioning, and dodged testifying by asserting their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.
According to those who did testify, jail guard Kevin Taylor was watching “Cops” and exchanging 22 personal text messages while Chamberlain was being sodomized and beaten. Deputy Jason Chapluk and Special Officer Phillip Le, who were also on duty that night, said they didn’t notice the attack until after it was over.
Anderson questioned why two and three jail guards were in the guard station at one time, saying that only one was supposed to be there while the other two walked the floor. He called deputies’ personal use of cellphones during work “certainly a distraction.”
“At the end of the day, the deputies were not doing their core responsibilities,” he said. “Supervisors were not making sure they were doing it.”
Asked how far he would go in disciplining department staff found in violation, Anderson said: “I will take it as far as I can take it, and termination will not be enough for me.”
In the meantime, Anderson said he had taken steps to improve security in the jails and make the Sheriff’s Department more accountable. They include removing TVs from guard stations, banning deputies from possessing cellphones and other personal electronic devices while on duty, and creating special housing areas for inmates at risk of attack from other inmates.
Anderson also plans to install more video cameras to eliminate blind spots in the jails and to monitor deputies’ activities in work areas. The department is also creating a daily log book to record guards’ activities “that is not vulnerable to unauthorized editing,” he said, in an apparent reference to allegations that deputies tampered with log evidence submitted to the grand jury.
County supervisors said they shared Anderson’s outrage over the grand jury findings, and agreed the department needed to change.
“We have a clear case of human failure. It is a time for repentance, and maybe a little restitution,” said board chairman John Moorlach. “We have to do something about restoring our reputation.”
Wayne Quint, president of the union representing sheriff’s deputies, said Tuesday that the department’s jails are safe, and that it would be unfortunate if the Chamberlain case were used to vilify the whole department.
He said county supervisors needed to keep in mind that inmate-to-guard ratios are disproportionate. On the night Chamberlain was killed, there were only two deputies and one special officer in charge of 300 inmates.
“That’s a ratio of 100 to 1, and it should be more like 14 to 1,” he said. “Our deputies do a great job in a very, very difficult and violent environment. They’re dealing with bad people, three-strikers, murderers. And they continue to do a great job.”
Times staff writer H.G. Reza contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
(Orange County Edition)
A look at the five sheriff’s employees suspended
A look at the five Orange County Sheriff’s employees suspended because of revelations in a grand jury examination of the beating death of John Derek Chamberlain at Theo Lacy Jail.
Deputy Kevin Taylor
A primary focus of the investigation, he was accused of setting up the attack by telling a shot-caller that Chamberlain was a molester. Prosecutors could not corroborate that, but did conclude that he was watching the television program “Cops” and exchanging text messages when Chamberlain was beaten to death. Evidence and testimony also showed that Taylor was getting regular updates on the grand jury investigation from his peers, and his report of the incident was provided to other deputies before they testified.
Deputy Jason Chapluk
Chapluk was in the guard station while Chamberlain was being beaten. He declined to testify until he was granted immunity. He said he didn’t notice Taylor text messaging because he was facing away from him. He testified that after his first grand jury appearance, he spoke with Taylor, but did not reveal anything about the proceedings when Taylor asked him how things went. He told the grand jury it was not uncommon to hear stories about guards playing video games during work hours and sleeping during midnight shifts, and that they had a radio code of “10-12" to warn each other when supervisors were coming. Testimony showed he brought movies to work.
Le declined to testify until he was granted immunity. He recalled deputies watching “Blackhawk Down” during one shift and said it was common for deputies to watch movies, use their personal laptop computers and read newspapers and books while on duty. He said deputies would interact with shot-callers up to 10 times in a single shift. He said shot-callers who kept other inmates in line were rewarded with sack lunches and new clothes. He acknowledged that he didn’t keep an accurate log on the day Chamberlain was killed. For instance, he wrote that Taylor and Chapluk talked to Chamberlain about concerns for his safety at 2:30 p.m. when it actually was perhaps 30 minutes later than that. He said he made the entry about 7 p.m, at Taylor’s request, after Chamberlain was killed.
Deputy Sonja Moreno
During a grand jury appearance, Moreno acknowledged that she had lied in previous testimony when she was asked whether she had revealed questions, answers and evidence to Taylor. She admitted that despite being admonished not to discuss the proceedings with anyone, she met Taylor and told him that she had figured out she was called as a witness because she was among those who exchanged 22 cellphone text messages during the time the attack took place. Prosecutors learned of her breach from another witness.
Sheriff’s Investigator Jose Armas
An investigator in the Internal Affairs unit, Armas spoke with Deputy Monica Bagalayos at least twice the day of her first grand jury appearance. Phone records showed they spoke for 16 minutes before she took the witness stand, and for 29 minutes later that evening. The two had been romantically involved years earlier. Armas told her to use his cellphone because his office phone “had a tendency to record things.” Bagalayos said she felt pressured by Armas to disclose her testimony, and ultimately revealed the line of questioning surrounding the text messages. She said he told her to keep their conversation quiet.
Compiled by Christine Hanley and Stuart Pfeifer