The HUGE Scandal in Orange County
In the early 1990s, the OC Sheriff instituted a computer system to track county jail inmates called “TRED”. One part of TRED was the Informant Index. This Informant index is information that must be disclosed to the defense, particularly since law enforcement cannot put a snitch into contact with a represented defendant (Massiah v US). This Informant Index list was kept a secret from everyone outside of the Sheriff and D.A.’s offices until just recently.
This past year, as part of a Petition for Writ of Habeus Corpus on behalf of a defendant named Henry Rodriguez, the TRED Informant Index files were finally released. This was the result of two defense attorneys who would not give up on defending their clients rights: James Crawford and Scott Sanders. How they finally got them released and exposed a huge, illegal, lowdown scandal in the OC, is one heck of a story. And it’s still not over yet.
In 1998, a man named Henry Rodriguez was friends with Richard Tovar. Tovar was convicted of killing his pregnant girlfriend. The DA prosecuted Rodriguez for murder, for unclear reasons since his crime seems to be renting a boat or maybe disposing of the body. But they won a conviction in 1999. That conviction was overturned in 2003 because the cops violated Rodriguez’s Miranda rights. Rodriguez was re-tried in 2006. The DA had a big problem though: Rodriguez’s original confession was coerced so it couldn’t be used a second time. This time they needed actual evidence.
Their solution appeared in the form of Michael James Garrity. Garrity claimed to have heard Rodriguez tell him all the details of the crime when they were cellmates. He never testified in the first trial but appeared, conveniently, 7 years later, to secure a second conviction.
James Crawford, Rodriguez’s attorney smelled something fishy with Garrity and asked Judge Fasel for any evidence from the jail. At a hearing on that issue, the Orange County Counsel (representing the Sheriff Department) told the judge that the files Crawford was seeking were “confidential and investigatory and didn’t exist.” “They were never even written down,” the county counsel whined.
Fasal sided with the Sheriff Department and said that Crawford was on a fishing expedition. Rodriguez was convicted again, but Crawford knew something was up, rumors of an illegal snitch program had been around for years. And now evidence was confidential, investigatory and nonexistant all at once.
So Crawford reopened the case with a Petition for Writ of Habeus Corpus, on behalf of Rodriguez. His petition was heard by Judge Thomas Goethals. Finally, you had two honest men in the room.
Judge Goethals had some experience with jailhouse snitches. In 2013, a slam dunk case of a mass murderer in Seal Beach had been completely bungled when a DA had gotten greedy and used an illegal snitch. Judge Goethals ordered a small part of the TRED information disclosed, revealing illegal snitches in at least two other cases, (remember this is confidential, investigatory existent but non existent evidence so it was hard to keep track of how many cases, how many lives were ruined by this scam).
Goethals then recused the entire Orange County District Attorney’s office from trying those two cases because of the DA’s dishonesty with respect to the snitch program. That meant the whole OC DA’s office could have nothing to do with these cases, their own cases. Eventually the California Attorney General had to try the cases.
Cut to three years later, when – after exhausting all of his appeals – Crawford filed his Petition for Writ of Habeus Corpus on behalf of Rodriguez. Goethals orders the entire Orange County TRED Informant Index files released. Finally, 1200 pages are released, with assurances that this is the entire record. And lo and behold, they contain the “investigatory, confidential and nonexistant” files on Rodriguez and Garrity.
These files show that Garrity was an informant for numerous agencies, not just Orange County, and that he received benefits for his snitching, like lesser sentences. The Informant Index shows that the Sheriffs Office placed Garrity into Rodriguez’s cell and actually gave him a list of questions to ask. All this is highly illegal because of a federal case called Massiah vs U.S. This ruling says any evidence gained by an illegal snitch must be excluded from evidence. The records even show the DA’s and cops conscious decision not to disclose that the snitch was explicitly directed and compensated.
As part of the Habeus petition, Judge Goethals ruled that the discovery failures that occurred in his case prejudiced Rodriguez since the court believed that there is a reasonable probability that litigation related to his second trial, with the tainted snitch, would have produced a result more favorable to the defendant, had Rodriguez received this discovery before that 2006 trial.
How did the Orange County D.A. react to this scandal? Their entire Sheriffs department was corrupt and their District Attorneys were complicit in coerced and false evidence and this had been going on for years, if not decades? Read our blog in two weeks to find out the next chapter in this amazing story.!