For years, allegations that Orange County law enforcement officials used a secret network of jailhouse informants to violate inmates’ constitutional rights have roiled the region’s criminal justice system.
The so-called snitch scandal has led to the retrial of several convicted killers, sparked criticism of Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and led to a federal investigation.
The county’s beleaguered law enforcement leaders received their most stinging rebuke yet on Friday, when Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals blocked prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty against a man who confessed to slaughtering eight people in a Seal Beach salon, ruling that the county’s mishandling of information regarding informants would prevent a fair trial.
For some of those who lost loved ones at the hands of Scott Dekraai in 2011, the moment seemed one of relief. Several relatives of victims stood and hugged after Goethals delivered his ruling in a Santa Ana courtroom. Then they turned their ire toward a law enforcement community they say victimized them all over again by bungling a slam-dunk prosecution.
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