Public Defenders: OC Sheriff's Deputies Colluded With MSNBC Producers, Violated Inmate's Rights

05/15/2015 06:07 pm ET | Updated Sep 22, 2016

LOS ANGELES -- Orange County sheriff's deputies linked to an ongoing corruption scandal allegedly collaborated with producers of an MSNBC documentary series in order to deliver incriminating statements against an inmate -- a move that violated the inmate's rights, county public defenders allege in a motion filed in O.C. Superior Court Wednesday.

In the 89-page motion, assistant public defender Scott Sanders says sheriff's deputies organized an interview between his client, Daniel Patrick Wozniak -- who faces the death penalty over charges that he murdered two county residents in 2010 -- and a freelance television producer, even though Wozniak was already represented by lawyers. This would be a violation of an inmate’s right to counsel, due process and a fair trial.

Wozniak is accused of killing 26-year-old Sam Herr and dismembering his body in an attempt to hide the murder. Wozniak is also accused of killing Herr's friend Juri Kibuishi, 23, and staging a crime scene to make it appear as if Herr had sexually assaulted Kibuishi.

The motion states that Suzanne Ali, a former producer for MSNBC's "Lockup" -- a documentary series about life inside jails and prisons around the nation -- says she found Wozniak by chance. The inmate gave her "a big fake actor's type grin" as she was touring his section of the jail facility and seeking inmates to feature on the show, she says.

But Sanders says this is unlikely: Referencing the total population of the jail facilities Ali toured the day she encountered Wozniak, Sanders writes that it was "a 1 in 1,000,000 coincidence wrapped in the 1 in 5,171 coincidence" that the producer stumbled across his client.

Sanders also cites testimony from a separate county murder case earlier this year, in which a deputy acknowledged that suggestions were at times made to the crew about which inmates to interview for the show.

The deputies who worked with the "Lockup" crew are part of a special handling unit that has been linked to a secret jailhouse informant network. The network allegedly moved snitches into cells in order to obtain damaging statements that could be used against defendants in trial.

This unit has deputies Sanders says have engaged in "significant deception and concealment" by lying on the stand in a number of murder cases to cover up the snitch program.

Sanders alleges that the same deputies who collaborated with Ali to set up the Wozniak interview for the show had, just two months prior, arranged for an informant to make contact with and obtain other damaging statements from the inmate. These deputies were eager to have Ali interview Wozniak because law enforcement was "interested in obtaining more statements from Wozniak," Sanders alleges.

By arranging the interviews, Sanders says, the state would get "incriminating statements" against the defendant -- as well as a "potentially enhanced reputation for deputies" who gave production strong story lines for the docu-series.

Because of the history of alleged corruption by the special handling deputies involved in this case, Sanders' motion seeks all unpublished documentary materials, emails and notes surrounding the "Lockup" interviews with Wozniak in order to understand how the show discovered his client. A hearing for the motion has been scheduled for June 26.

Laura Fernandez, a senior Liman Fellow at Yale Law School who studies prosecutorial misconduct around the nation, told The Huffington Post that this latest revelation shows that county law enforcers, even after multiple opportunities to come clean, are continuing to conceal and deceive in what amounts to fraud on the courts and the public.

"I'm not sure what is more disturbing about the continuous stream of misconduct coming to light in Orange County -- the volume and magnitude of the cheating itself, or the repeated denials of wrongdoing by law enforcement and prosecutors," Fernandez said. "The claims of coincidence after coincidence after coincidence just defy belief. One gets the sense that these state agents and officers of the court, in an effort to conceal their misconduct, have taken steps to obstruct justice at every turn, including when called to testify under oath -- actions profoundly contrary to the duties of their office, and of course contrary to the law itself."

These "coincidences," which law enforcement agents have used to explain how they have obtained incriminating evidence against multiple defendants, were also called out by Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals in 2014 during a ruling in a county murder case. Goethals said it plainly: The court has, over the years, developed "a healthy skepticism" related to "coincidence and criminal prosecutions."

When asked about the allegations that OCSD deputies conspired with show producers to extract damaging evidence from Wozniak, OCSD Lt. Jeff Hallock told The Huffington Post that the department was aware of the motion but is "still in the process of evaluating the allegations."

A spokeswoman for MSNBC told HuffPost the network is unable to comment on pending litigation.

Fallout from a string of corruption allegations -- including those related to the tainted jailhouse snitch program and the emergence of allegations that county prosecutors have been obstructing justice and violating due process in several murder cases, possibly for years -- has unraveled multiple murder cases in the region. As a result, some accused murderers have walked free.

It culminated in March when Goethals ejected DA Tony Rackauckas' entire office from further proceedings in the mass murder trial of Scott Dekraai. Dekraai pleaded guilty last year to shooting and killing his ex-wife and seven other people in a hair salon in 2011, in what remains the largest mass murder in county history.

It was during the Dekraai hearing that Sanders first unearthed the violations within the the county's secret jailhouse informant program, as well as internal records from the program that Sanders said have been improperly concealed for over 20 years.

Goethals sided with Sanders in his ruling when he booted the OCDA team from the Dekraai case, saying that the government had made "significant" violations of due process during the case. He called certain aspects of the DA office's behavior a "comedy of errors."

California Attorney General Kamala Harris' office would have inherited the Dekraai case, but Harris has appealed Goethals' ruling to pull the entire DA office off the case, and announced that she will conduct an investigation into all allegations.

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