O.C. officials OK a watchdog for sheriff

Times Staff Writer

Orange County supervisors Tuesday gave final approval to a plan to create a civilian oversight agency that will review misconduct complaints against county law enforcement officers, capping months of planning to establish it.

The plan, put forward in May by board Chairman John Moorlach, creates a review board modeled on one used in Los Angeles County to take citizen complaints, investigate deaths and serious injuries involving Sheriff's Department personnel, and examine all deaths in custody.

The board voted to move forward with the idea last spring, over the opposition of then-Sheriff Michael S. Carona, Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas and the union representing sheriff's deputies.

But over the last several months, opposition was winnowed down. Carona left office after his indictment on federal corruption charges, and his replacement, acting Sheriff Jack Anderson, has supported the plan.

The concept was also narrowed: Though it once would have covered all county law enforcement personnel, the final version covers only the Sheriff's Department, leaving out probation officers and personnel of the district attorney's office. It also gives the unions representing peace officers a say in the selection of the agency's executive director.

"We've given them a seat at the table," Moorlach said.

The motion was approved unanimously Tuesday without debate or discussion.

The Office of Independent Review, as it will be called, is expected to cost $750,000 a year for staff.

It will provide periodic reports to the public on use-of-force reviews, help guide internal-affairs investigations in the Sheriff's Department and review department policies, in addition to the main duties of handling complaints and conducting investigations. The agency will not have subpoena power.

Supervisors directed county staff to find a lawyer who would work as the agency's executive director on a contract basis and to come back with a proposed agreement in 60 days.

One possible candidate is Mike Gennaco, who is executive director of Los Angeles County's Office of Independent Review and helped Orange County develop its model for the oversight function.

Gennaco works for Los Angeles County on a contract basis, which theoretically would allow him to accept a contract to serve Orange County as well, though they are both full-time jobs.

Gennaco declined to comment on whether such an arrangement was under discussion but said, "I'll continue to work with [Orange County] to any degree I can."

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christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

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