Amid Jail Controversies, Orange County Sheriff to Bow Out

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After she was appointed to lead Orange County, Ca.’s troubled Sheriff’s Department in 2008, Sandra Hutchens vowed to be a “change agent” and clean house. Her predecessor, Michael Carona, had been indicted on federal corruption charges, and the agency was tainted by cronyism, sex scandals and allegations of rampant abuse in the county’s jails. Nearly a decade later, facing mounting criticism over her department’s handling of jailhouse informants and the brazen escape by inmates last year, Hutchens said yesterday she will not seek reelection, the Los Angeles Times reports. The announcement came hours after the American Civil Liberties Union issued a scathing report alleging inhumane treatment in the jails under her watch, and about a week before her long-awaited testimony on the use of a jailhouse informant in a convicted killer’s case.

Hutchens said her decision to step down after a four-decade career in law enforcement “has nothing to do with controversy.” “Forty years is enough,” the sheriff said. “It is time to step aside.” Hutchens insisted she had turned around the struggling department, despite cutbacks amid the recession. She has endorsed Undersheriff Don Barnes to replace her and said he needs time to organize his campaign. The county’s Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to appoint her in 2008 after Carona, the longtime sheriff, stepped down while facing federal corruption charges. He was convicted of witness tampering and sentenced to 66 months in prison. Last year, the U.S. Justice Department started an investigation into whether Orange County law enforcement routinely denied accused criminals fair trials by using jailhouse informants to secretly gather evidence. The scandal has caused convictions to be tossed out and led to a steady flow of negative publicity for the Sheriff’s Department and the district attorney’s office.

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