Scott Dekraai armed himself with three handguns, drove to the beauty salon in Seal Beach, California, where his ex-wife worked and opened fire. The two-minute rampage in October 2011 left eight people dead and one injured.
Within an hour, Dekraai was pulled over by police and confessed. Numerous witnesses, including a survivor, could testify that he was the shooter. There was no reason to think that convicting him would be difficult.
Nonetheless, Dekraai’s attorney contends, prosecutors decided they wanted some insurance—so they planted an informant in the cell next to him at the Orange County Jail. “Inmate F” struck up a friendship with Dekraai and began asking questions, reported the ABA Journal.
This planting of an informant next to a suspect was not an isolated incident, according to Dekraai’s public defender, Scott Sanders. After a year of investigation, Sanders filed a 505-page motion alleging that the DA’s office and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department had a long-standing practice of planting undercover informants next to high-value defendants represented by counsel. In addition, the DA’s office routinely failed to hand over discoverable evidence and, when asked about it, deputies and prosecutors repeatedly lied, Sanders claims.
If true, such practices would be a violation of civil rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1964’s Massiah v. United States that police officers who use undercover informants to interrogate someone represented by counsel violate the accused’s Sixth Amendment right to an attorney. And failing to turn over exculpatory information on this practice is a violation of the defendant’s 14th Amendment due process rights under 1963’s Brady v. Maryland.
Sanders’ allegations were explosive, triggering a year of hearings that led to an even bigger revelation: For more than 25 years, the sheriff’s department has maintained a database called Tred for tracking jail movements, but had almost never disclosed its information. That means prosecutors who knew about Tred records could have violated Brady dozens, hundreds or even thousands of times—and two decades of convictions could be called into question.
The revelations were so damning that Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals disqualified the DA’s entire 250-lawyer office from prosecuting Dekraai. “It is arguable whether or not the evidence currently before this court … reaches the standard of ‘outrageous governmental misconduct,’ ” Goethals wrote in March 2015. “What cannot be debated is the fact that serious, ongoing discovery violations continue to occur in this case.”
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