Seal Beach

Orange County Sheriff Will Be Forced to Testify About ‘Snitch Scandal'

The scandal has cast a shadow over the prosecution of the worst mass killer in Orange County history

The Orange County Superior Court judge said Thursday he will order Sheriff Sandra Hutchens to testify at an evidentiary hearing involving allegations of outrageous governmental misconduct in the use of jailhouse snitches.

Judge Thomas Goethals, who is presiding over the hearing which stems from the case against Scott Evans Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county's history, told attorneys that he doesn't care which one of them calls the sheriff as a witness.

"The sheriff needs to testify," Goethals said. "I don't particularly care who calls her to testify."

The judge said he wants to hear from Hutchens, especially following testimony by sheriff's Cmdr. Jon Briggs that the department was stretched so thin that deputies were largely unsupervised and left to do inappropriate things regarding the cultivation and use of jailhouse informants.

"I am curious about the sheriff's opinion as to the type of misconduct (Briggs) described," Goethals said, adding he wondered if Hutchens' opinion on the level of misconduct has changed given Briggs' testimony.

Goethals has slammed Hutchens in the past for interviews in which it appeared she was brushing aside any large-scale inappropriate activity regarding the informants.

Dekraai's attorney, Scott Sanders, has alleged that there have been multiple cases of defendants' constitutional rights being violated in the way snitches were deployed to seek out incriminating information.

The attorneys were instructed to see if Hutchens would be available to testify next week. If not, then her testimony might be delayed until the end of the month as the hearings will be suspended from June 15-26.

Goethals also told prosecutors from the state Attorney General's Office, who have taken over the Dekraai case since Goethals booted the Orange County

District Attorney's Office, that he would like to hear testimony next week from the families of the killer's nine victims, eight of whom  including his ex-wife  died when he ambushed the Seal Beach beauty salon where she worked.

Dekraai has pleaded guilty to the eight murders and one attempted murder and is awaiting a penalty trial phase, where jurors would decide whether to recommended capital punishment or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Goethals said the goal of this third round of evidentiary hearings into informant misconduct is to determine if the death penalty should be lifted as a potential punishment for Dekraai.

Lt. Lane Lagaret, who is the sheriff's public information officer, took the stand Thursday. Lagaret, who used to be assigned to the special handling unit that oversaw informants in the jail, said he had not read a special handling unit log that has provided much fodder for Sanders' allegations.

Lagaret, who took over as PIO in March, said he was so busy with his new job that he hadn't had time to read it yet. He said his predecessor, Lt. Mark Stichter, gave him a copy so he could get up to speed on current cases.

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