OC Sheriff Reviewing 22,000 Cases of Mishandled Evidence

February 6, 2020 Updated: February 6, 2020
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SANTA ANA, Calif.—The Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) announced Feb. 4 it is conducting an evidence review for more than 20,000 cases. About 1,500 case-reviews are complete, with the sheriff’s staff having started in December.

The announcement comes two years after an internal investigation by the OCSD which revealed elemental mishandling of evidence.

The examination found deputies often waited months to turn in case evidence, including currency, confiscated drugs, photos, and videos connected to criminal cases. Officers are required to turn in evidence at the end of their shifts, but over 70 percent did not follow department policy between February 2018 and February 2019, the audit found.

District Attorney Todd Spitzer told NPR last year that his office was not aware of the ongoing misconduct investigations until he was approached by a reporter about it. Sheriff Don Barnes disagreed, telling NPR that Spitzer was notified an audit was in the works in 2018.

“These are not merely cases that have been affected,” Barnes said in the recent press release. “In every one of these cases, a person accused of a crime is owed their right to due process in the criminal justice system. In some cases, there is also a victim who wants to see justice served.

“I am not only mindful of those facts, they’re the driving force behind my desire to uncover the full scope of this issue and hold accountable those who violated policy.”

Two OCSD deputies were “identified for suspected issues,” and have been placed on administrative leave. They are under criminal investigation pertaining to the mishandling of case evidence.

Sheriff Barnes does not want “misleading conjecture focused on an issue that they are actively working to correct [to] distract” the public away from the “vast majority of the men and women of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department [who] are dedicated professionals who work every day to keep [the] community safe.”

Sheriff Barnes will hold monthly briefings open to the public beginning February, where he will cover topics pertinent to Orange County’s public safety.