Orange County Sheriff Asks FBI to Probe Civil Rights Violations in Jails After Inmate Death

Acting Orange County Sheriff Jack Anderson said Tuesday that he has asked the FBI to investigate possible civil rights violations in the county jails in the wake of an inmate slaying and a damning report about jail operations.

Anderson also told the county Board of Supervisors that he had placed six sheriff's personnel on paid leave and planned to place others on leave as he continued to review the grand jury's report. Some staff could face criminal charges, he said.

Nine inmates have been charged with first-degree murder in the beating death of John Derek Chamberlain, 41. Chamberlain, a computer technician, died Oct. 5, 2006, awaiting trial on charges of possessing child pornography.

"I am outraged at the blatant violations of our department's policies, rules and regulations by some of the members of our department," Anderson told the supervisors. "This behavior is disconcerting and repugnant to our department's members."

Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI, said federal investigators and a prosecutor from the U.S. attorney's office would meet soon with sheriff's officials to discuss the request.

County supervisors have created an office of independent review to oversee the scandal-plagued Sheriff's Department, fifth-largest in the nation with 4,000 employees. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said earlier this week he would also press for an independent, civilian monitor to oversee the county's jails, which house more than 7,000 inmates.

A criminal grand jury report released Monday found that deputies assigned to watch inmates routinely slept, played video games, sent text messages and watched TV and movies during their shifts.

It also found that deputies failed to perform required 30-minute walkthroughs of the jail, used inmates as "shot callers" to keep order, falsified logs, fired balls of pepper spray at inmates as punishment and denied inmates medical treatment to save on paperwork.

Rackauckas has said that he was unable to file criminal charges because of a lack of solid evidence against any specific deputy. An undersheriff was fired as a result of the probe, however, and an assistant sheriff and a captain at the jail abruptly left.

Anderson said he asked the FBI on Monday to "partner" with the Sheriff's Department as it works with an independent watchdog to complete an internal investigation into the allegations in the report.

He also outlined several steps the department has taken to improve jail conditions since Chamberlain's death, including removing TVs from guard stations, banning personal cell phones for on-duty deputies, installing video cameras and removing blind spots in the jail.

According to the report, the deputy in the guard station who would have had the best view of the 20- to 50-minute attack on Chamberlain watched the TV show "Cops" and sent 22 personal text messages during the beating. A stream of inmates came and went from the area where the attack was going on, bringing water from bathrooms to clean up the crime scene, the report said.

Deputies only reacted when an inmate stood on a table in front of the guard station and alerted them by waving his arms and screaming there was a "man down."

Fallout from the report has caused further upheaval in a department which has seen its leader at the time, former Sheriff Michael Carona, retire this year to defend himself against federal corruption charges. Two former assistant sheriffs pleaded guilty to lesser charges and cooperated in the government's case against Carona.

Supervisor John Moorlach said Tuesday that he was sickened by the lapses described in the grand jury report, but said Carona's departure offers a "glorious opportunity" for the county to fix corruption and poor management within the department. Interviews with candidates, which begin May 18, will be open to the public, he said.

"We have a brotherhood and the brotherhood protects their own and they act like they are the upper class," he said of jail deputies. "We can't touch or tease or talk about cops because they're perfect — but they're not."