O.C. deputies’ lapses prompt massive review of evidence handling

Officials from the Orange County Sheriff's Department are appealing to the public for any leads they can provide on the whereabouts of three dangerous escapees from the Orange County Jail. The plea for help came during a morning press conference in Santa Ana at Orange County Sheriff headquarters that also detailed the crimes the three had committed January 25, 2016(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times ).
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department must review the evidence in more than 22,000 cases after 15 deputies were criminally investigated for failing to properly book information.

The review, which began late last year, involves cases from March 2015 to March 2018. It follows allegations that some evidence was booked after convictions, or not at all. That could affect convictions.

“These are not merely cases that have been affected,” said Sheriff Don Barnes. “In every one of these cases, a person accused of a crime is owed their right to due process in the criminal justice system. In some cases, there is also a victim who wants to see justice served.”

In November, authorities confirmed that four deputies were fired after an audit found systemic lapses in the handling of evidence. Two audits conducted from February 2018 to February 2019 found issues with deputies booking evidence “outside of department policy,” according to the Sheriff’s Department.


Fifteen deputies were investigated by the department for issues found during the audits and referred to the Orange County district attorney for possible criminal prosecution. The district attorney declined to file charges.

The department then conducted an internal affairs investigation, and to date, five deputies have been fired, nine have been issued discipline including unpaid hours off, and one investigation is ongoing, according to the department.

The department started reviewing evidence in cases in December after the district attorney’s office identified more than 1,200 active criminal cases in need of review.

When the agency began that review, it discovered two more deputies suspected of failing to do their jobs. They were both placed on administrative leave and are the subject of internal criminal investigations related to booking of evidence. The department told the district attorney’s office about the suspected policy violations and what cases might have been affected.

“Due to the Peace Officer Bill of Rights, no additional information can be shared at this time due to the ongoing investigation,” the department said in a news release Tuesday.

The case review team includes staff from the Sheriff’s Department and district attorney’s office. They’re about 6% done, having reviewed almost 1,500 cases.


Barnes will hold monthly briefings, open to the media and available to the public online, beginning this month. The sheriff will provide updates on the case review when he has information to share.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.