The Orange County Sheriff’s Department insists it has been working hard to comply with a judge’s long-standing orders to divulge records concerning its handling of jailhouse informants.
On Tuesday, however, a 24-year veteran of the department testified that he did not know whether anyone in the department had gone through 68 banker’s boxes worth of files — including informant-related material — dating from the 1980s.
Lt. Andrew Stephens testified that he took possession of the boxes — each containing 100 files — in late 2016, when he took over the jail’s Custody Intelligence Unit, which handles informants.
“I am underwhelmed at this moment by the diligence of the search, based on what this witness said,” Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals said after Stephens’ testimony.
The Sheriff’s Department’s repeated failure to turn over informant-related evidence to the defense team of mass murderer Scott Dekraai is central to hearings underway this week before Goethals.
It is the third round of hearings in the case of Dekraai, a former tugboat captain who has pleaded guilty to the murders of eight people at a Seal Beach salon in 2011.
The penalty phase of his trial — to determine whether Dekraai should serve life in prison or go to death row — has been indefinitely delayed as the hearings play out.
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders is arguing that the death penalty should be tossed out because authorities cannot be trusted to turn over relevant evidence.
In the current hearings, Sanders said he intends to determine how and why the Sheriff’s Department in 2014 sought permission from the county Board of Supervisors to destroy records three years after their creation. He said the order, which has been put on hold, would have resulted in the potential destruction of informant evidence, including the 68 boxes.
Sanders told the judge that he wishes to…