ORANGE, Calif. - One of the first things Sandra Hutchens will have to deal with in her new job as Sheriff of Orange County is a records request from the ACLU of Southern California seeking information about jail policies and procedures in the wake of the grand jury's report on the tragic death of John Derek Chamberlain in one of the county's jails.
According to a grand jury report issued in April, 41-year-old Chamberlain, a computer technician from Mission Viejo, was beaten to death by fellow detainees at Theo Lacy Facility in October 2006 because they mistakenly believed that he was a child molester. The report found that during the fatal attack, deputies who were supposed to be patrolling the inmate barracks were instead watching television and text messaging their friends on their cell phones.
Hector Villagra, director of the Orange County office of the ACLU/SC, said in a letter last week to Jack Anderson, the then acting sheriff, 'The grand jury's findings plainly detail a crisis in management and supervision. The grand jury report, however, is not the only cause for concern. While the county jails averaged 3 to 5 deaths a year from 1993 on, 11 inmates died in 2006. Since 1997, the county has paid $2.5 million to settle complaints of abuse in county jails. The human toll and economic cost that results from lax management and supervision at county jails should be of concern to all county residents.'
Villagra said the ACLU/SC supports the creation of an independent, civilian body to oversee the investigation of complaints at county jails and to inspect county jail facilities, review their operations, and compare stated policies with actual practices. 'In the meantime,' Villagra wrote,' the ACLU of Southern California intends to use every available means to increase the openness and transparency of the county jails.' He then requested a number of documents that outline the department's policies, procedures and guidelines on inmate supervision, personnel rounds and patrols of the jails, grievance procedures for complaints against jail personnel, the medical treatment of inmates, the use of Tasers or stun guns and a number of other concerns.
'Sheriff Hutchens is coming to the Orange County Sheriff's Department with a clean slate,' said Villagra, 'and we're hoping that she will bring a fresh approach and new openness to the management of the county's jails. We look forward to working with her.'
By law Sheriff Hutchens has until June 15 to comply with the records request.