Orange County probe findings dispute D.A. investigators’ whistle-blower allegations of misconduct
Orange County’s governing board has formally rejected whistle-blower claims made by two district attorney investigators asserting prosecutors covered up criminal conduct by police and hid evidence in several high-profile cases.
The Board of Supervisors’ action was based on an investigation by an outside law firm hired to examine the allegations, officials said. Leon Page, the county’s top attorney, said the inquiry, which included more than 200 hours of interviews with more than a dozen witnesses, found the claims were unsubstantiated.
“A principal reason the claims are being rejected is because your clients do not know the real facts upon which their claims are premised,” Page wrote in an Aug. 10 letter to Joel Baruch, the investigators’ attorney. “They boldly assert legal violations, but those ‘violations’ are based on incorrect ‘facts.’”
The denial of the claims opens the way for the investigators, Tom Conklin and Abraham Santos, to file lawsuits against the county. Both men alleged that they have been retaliated against and targeted for speaking out about improper conduct.
Conklin and Santos filed their damage claims in May. Among other things, Santos alleged he was removed from an investigation after he concluded there had been a cover up in a case involving a former Fullerton city manager. The city manager, Joe Felz, was charged with driving under the influence in connection with an auto accident last year. He pleaded not guilty and the case is pending.
Santos’ alleged in his claim filed with the county that former Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes obstructed justice by ordering a subordinate to cover up information related to the accident. Santos asserted he was taken off the case because Hughes was friends with a high-ranking county prosecutor.
Citing the investigation by the outside law firm, Page denied the district attorney’s office quashed a probe into the allegations of obstruction of justice. He also wrote that Assistant District Attorney Ibrahim Baytieh did not have a friendship with Hughes, as Santos claimed.
“Obstruction of justice was always on the table,” Page wrote. “Despite Mr. Santos’s uninformed claim of a cover-up, the case (still pending) has been, at all points, properly handled by” the district attorney’s office. Hughes could not be reached for comment.
Separately, Conklin alleged that prosecutors told him during a 2011 murder trial to stall an investigation that Conklin believed revealed a former Cypress Police detective committed perjury during the case.
Stephenson Choi Kim is serving a life sentence in connection with the case. Conklin claimed the detective created a false report that aided prosecutors and misrepresented witness statements, specifically those identifying Choi Kim as the gunman.
Page acknowledged that some evidence may not have been provided to Choi Kim’s attorney and that Conklin may have had his “sense of right” offended by the situation. But Page denied that the district attorney’s office tried to hide its error years later, as Conklin alleged.
“When in 2015 evidence came to light that full discovery may not have been made, there was no cover up or conspiracy to hide exculpatory evidence,” Page wrote. “Indeed, in a very timely fashion, significant efforts were made to produce, or reproduce, the appropriate discovery.”
Page also refuted the investigators’ claims that they had experienced retaliation for speaking up.
The report Page said supported the denial of the investigators’ claims was prepared by employment attorney R. Craig Scott, a former Laguna Hills city councilman.
Baruch. the attorney representing Conklin and Santos, criticized the county’s report, saying it assumed statements by other district attorney office employees were truthful and that the allegations made by his clients were false. “But we have backup documents to prove our point,” Baruch said.
“Why would (my clients) destroy their own law enforcement careers in order to fabricate information and evidence?” Baruch wrote in an April 14 response to Page.
Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff at the District Attorney’s Office, said she was pleased that the county investigation “confirmed… the claims filed by Investigators Tom Conklin and Abraham Santos are without merit.”
Conklin and Santos are still employed at the DA’s office, but Conklin has been placed on administrative leave.
Scott’s firm began investigating Conklin’s and Santos’ claims in late June and the county paid $64,000 for his work
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