SANTA ANA (CNS) – U.S. Department of Justice officials announced today they have closed an 11-year investigation into Orange County’s Jails, a probe that began following the in-custody stomping death of inmate John Chamberlain in October 2006.
Still open is a Justice Department investigation of the District Attorney’s Office and sheriff’s department over the jailhouse informant scandal stemming from the case against Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history. The civil pattern-or-practice investigation of the use of informants in the jails and in trials began in December 2016. Dekraai’s attorney alleged that the constitutional rights of inmates were systematically abused in the informant program.
The conclusion of the investigation around the 41-year-old Chamberlain’s killing came amid multiple inmate lawsuits against the sheriff in federal court alleging an array of issues such as a failure to provide proper medical care, attacks on inmates, the use of chains while transporting inmates from jail to court and a phone scandal blamed on a software glitch update that allowed improper recording of confidential calls from inmates to their attorneys.
In the Chamberlain case, five inmates were convicted of second-degree murder for their part in the death of Chamberlain, who they wrongly thought was a child molester. Evidence in the trial showed some guards wrongly implied to the leaders of various factions in the jails that Chamberlain was a “chester,” which sparked the beat down that occurred just 68 feet away from an enclosed guard station.
The Justice Department cited a series of changes the sheriff has implemented to address the issues in its move to close the case, including:
— a new system of classifying inmates so they can have more access to
recreation and inmate programs to help them when they get out;
— upgrades to cells to better help inmates with mental health and
substance abuse issues;
— more services for veterans to help them take advantage of programs
earmarked for them by Veterans Affairs and other organizations;
— new procedures for releasing inmates during daylight to cut down on
nighttime attacks, especially for women inmates;
— more “robust” programs to help inmates when they are let out that
are aimed at cutting down recidivism; and
— stepped-up security to stem the tide of drugs smuggled into jail.
“Department of Justice attorneys, with the assistance of subject-matter experts, had the opportunity to see these efforts first hand during multiple site visits. I want to thank the DOJ for valuing collaboration among federal agencies, national partners, and local law enforcement in bringing this issue to resolution,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said.
“The announcement ending the investigation speaks to the tremendous work that has been accomplished by custody staff of both our department and the Orange County Health Care Agency,” he said. “The conclusion of the Department of Justice’s investigation further demonstrates that our jail system is one that meets our responsibility to provide necessary care and protection to inmates incarcerated within Orange County Jails.”