Report: Calif. prison officials delayed investigating complaints about staff

The Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility has been the subject of a lawsuit by several disabled inmates


By Andrew Sheeler
The Sacramento Bee

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — California prison officials at a Southern California prison delayed investigating staff misconduct complaints, resulting in many investigations passing the deadline for disciplinary action against those staff members, according to a new report by the Office of the Inspector General.

The report, which evaluated the staff misconduct inquiry process at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, cited four key concerns with the process.

The Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa, California.
The Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa, California. (Photo/Howard Lipin of San Diego Union-Tribune via MCT)

The facility has been the subject of a lawsuit by several disabled inmates, in a class action suit that's come to be known as the Armstrong case, "in which disabled incarcerated persons and parolees alleged that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (the department) violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in its treatment and handling of incarcerated persons and parolees," according to the report.

In response to the case, the department assembled a team to address the allegations. The investigators, managed by the department's Office of Internal Affairs, completed staff misconduct inquiry cases that looked into the allegations of misconduct.

The inspector general's report found that in addition to the department officials delaying completing their investigations, the report also found that the quality of investigators' work was poor "due to deficient interviews, improper or inadequate evidence collection and inaccurate or incomplete inquiry report submission," according to a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders written by Inspector General Amarik Singh.

The report also pointed out that investigators on several occasions compromised the confidentiality of several of the inquiry cases, such as by conducting interviews in non-confidential locations or revealing confidential information to witnesses or subjects of the cases.

The report cites an example of an incarcerated person who reported a staff complaint to a prison sergeant.

"Afterward, an officer looked at the incarcerated person as he returned to his cell and allegedly said to another officer, 'Snitches get stitches, don't they?' The second officer allegedly laughed," according to the report.

Finally, the report alleged that the prison warden made several inappropriate decisions regarding cases under investigation, "including decisions not supported by the evidence, decisions for cases in which he did not fully review the evidence, and decisions for cases in which he was not an impartial decision-maker," wrote Singh.

In response to the OIG report, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas issued the following response:

"We appreciate the OIG's report, and emphasize that at that time the allegations came to light, CDCR did not have a standardized process for conducting inquiries into allegations brought forward outside of the grievance process. We have taken aggressive steps since then to address many of these issues, including the implementation of regulations for a new and improved staff misconduct investigations process in January 2022, installing more than 1,000 fixed and 800 body-worn cameras at the institution, and increasing supervisory staffing as well as additional training at the institution. Our goal is to ensure increased accountability, fidelity and trust into our investigations process, and we look forward to continuing to work with the OIG and our stakeholders on this issue."

The report found that of 257 staff misconduct inquiry cases reviewed between August 2020 and July 2021, the department processed and resolved 256 of them. Out of those, the warden found a "reasonable belief of staff misconduct" in just 20 of those cases, with just one case resulting in sustained misconduct allegations, according to the report.

"The officers in that case received letters of instruction, which are not disciplinary action, but instead a form of corrective action. Therefore, as of the publication date of this report, the department has not formally disciplined staff members relative to any of the staff allegations submitted by the disabled incarcerated persons pertaining to this project," according to the report.

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(c)2022 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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