Orange County cops faced a 1998 crime-solving hurdle while trying to blame 16-year-old Arthur Carmona for the robbery of a juice bar: eyewitnesses weren’t helpful. They noted the bandit had worn a Los Angeles Lakers cap and Carmona was hatless. Officers then retrieved a Lakers cap that had no ties to Carmona, placed it on his head and this time won positive identification that landed the suspect in prison before his exoneration two years later.
Though the Carmona saga is relatively ancient news, local law enforcement’s willingness to manufacture false outcomes unfortunately remains alive and well. We know this, in part, because sheriff’s deputies rigged cases with unconstitutional tactics to secretly help prosecutors win courtroom battles. In just the last four years, revelations of such cheating wrecked at least 20 major felony cases, many involving murder.
That scandal caught deputies using jailhouse informants to illicit dubious confessions from pre-trial inmates. The latest, ongoing mess inside the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) involves another form of government malfeasance against defendants. Solid evidence surfaced in 2018 that phone calls between inmates and their trial lawyers had been illegally recorded and accessed by deputies, a Policing 101 no-no.
Deputies insist the call monitoring was innocent and that no valuable information was ever used to give them an unseen advantage. But the scandal hasn’t disappeared. One of the problems is that OCSD along with officials at GTL, the department’s private supplier of advance jail phone services for inmates, have offered shifting explanations as well as conflicting numbers for the unlawful intrusions.
A year into the scandal, no outsider knows the actual extent of the monitoring, a situation that isn’t accidental. In hopes Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett will let the proverbial clock runout before the public learns what really happened, a strategy of delay and obfuscation is being employed. Tellingly, GTL and our County Counsel’s office, which represents OCSD, have acted as if the wrongdoers are the defense lawyers demanding answers about the surveillance of their privileged communications.
Leading the charge to unravel the mysteries are members of the Orange County Public Defender’s office, including Sara Ross and Scott Sanders. They’ve repeatedly asked Prickett, a former prosecutor, to put OCSD and GTL officials, who’ve been fighting subpoenas for records, on the witness stand where they would have to answer questions under oath. Though the judge has not formally ruled out that move, he has appeared resistant.
At a August 16 hearing inside Orange County’s Harbor Court in Newport Beach, Ross and Sanders hope to convince Prickett of the need for an evidentiary hearing and greater transparency of documents. To bolster their case, they have filed a sworn declaration of Scott Jordan, an independent expert. Jordan is a professor of Computer Science at the University of California Irvine. A Ph. D in Electrical Engineering, he’s also served as the Federal Communications Commission’s chief technologist.
Jordan studied GTL’s claims, especially regarding the assertion of alleged huge call monitoring gaps to the PD’s offices. Using the “Poisson Process Model,” he determined the chance the company has given an accurate version of events regarding one key phone number is “less than one in one trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion.”
In other words: “Virtually impossible,” he declared.
Jordan also called the official story about the lack of call monitoring to another number “implausible.”
We’ll have to see if Prickett’s curiosity is piqued.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.