New Details Emerge in Sheriff's Evidence Scandal


WESTMINSTER (CNS) - At least two Orange County sheriff's deputies referred to prosecutors for criminal charges for issues booking evidence were later promoted after prosecutors declined to charge them, a defense attorney said today.

The allegations come in a motion from Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who is pushing for more evidence from sheriff's deputies and prosecutors in the case against Raymond Lopez Varelas, who is facing drug charges. Ultimately, Sanders may seek to have the case dismissed for outrageous governmental misconduct depending on the evidence uncovered.

Orange County Sheriff's Officials released this statement Thursday:

“Cases sent to the District Attorney's Office for review are based on the potential for criminal culpability. It is during the administrative process that the employees' conduct related to potential violations of department policy is examined. During that process, the facts of the case are weighed to determine the egregiousness of the violation and discipline is applied appropriately. Every one of these cases held our personnel accountable and resulted in some form of discipline, including and up to termination. To date, four deputies have been terminated.

“Discipline is not intended to be punitive, it is intended to be corrective. It does not exclude an employee from seeking future promotional opportunities and participating in the competitive county promotional process.”

Sanders is seeking correspondence between prosecutors and sheriff's officials regarding what even sheriff's authorities acknowledge was a systemic issue with booking evidence over the past several years.

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Sanders has questioned why 18 deputies accused of failing to book evidence properly have not been added to what is known as a Brady List, which is an assemblage of deputies and investigators who have been disciplined for issues with turning over evidence to defense attorneys as required by law. Prosecutors declined to file charges against any of the deputies.

Orange County District Attorney's Officials issued this statement:

“Just weeks after taking office, District Attorney Todd Spitzer added several Sheriff's deputies to the District Attorney's Brady Notification System where they legally belong. This included deputies who were accused of failing to properly book evidence according to Sheriff's Department policy.

“However, it was not until November 2019 that the Orange County District Attorney's Office was made aware that a Sheriff's Department audit had revealed a systemic problem with Sheriff's personnel failing to properly book evidence.

“The Brady review process is currently ongoing with regard to all the remaining Sheriff's deputies currently identified in connection with the improper booking of evidence.”

Sheriff Don Barnes has said prosecutors were informed about the issues his department uncovered with evidence booking.

Sanders' motion includes testimony from one deputy, who was called as a witness in the case against convicted killer Craig Tanber, who was convicted last month of second-degree murder in another attack. Sanders said Deputy Victor Valdez, who was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a female informant and repeatedly failing to book evidence.

Valdez was docked 120 hours, Sanders noted. Another deputy who testified in the Tanber case in a motion alleging outrageous governmental misconduct, which was denied, was also allegedly referred for criminal prosecution like Valdez, according to Sanders, but he was only given a week and a half off of work without pay, and was later promoted to sergeant.

Sanders also alleged that Valdez also illegally recorded calls to prosecutors.

Photos: Getty Images

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