OC sheriff protected detective who repeatedly mishandled evidence and legal claims – Orange County Register
An Orange County Sheriff’s Detective who investigated MPs for mismanagement of evidence himself had problems reserving evidence and assets on time, if at all.
Sheriff Don Barnes referred Detective Matthew LeFlore to the district attorney’s office for prosecution, but only mentioned one case, which was dismissed by prosecutors. The department, however, has remained silent on 17 other cases of mismanagement of evidence, including five in which LeFlore allegedly lied on police reports, according to court documents filed Wednesday, June 23.
“OCSD leaders would reasonably have expected that, if found, it would raise questions of fairness and reliability among others that were under investigation,” the defender said. Deputy Public Scott Sanders in a motion requesting Deputy Disciplinary Records.
Barnes accused Sanders of making false assumptions.
“The timelines and assumptions made by the Public Defender’s motion are wrong and serve to deliberately mislead,” Barnes said in a prepared statement. “We hope the court and the public will view this as a blatant disregard for the facts and focus on the criminal actions of the public defender’s client in court, and not judge a case through the media.”
Three MPs were charged with filing evidence late or not at all, two pleading guilty to petty crimes and one awaiting trial. Other MPs, including LeFlore, are still under investigation by prosecutors and the Sheriff’s Department.
Failure to reserve evidence
Sheriff officials knew that LeFlore had repeatedly failed to collect evidence and lied about it in his police reports, but instructed him to investigate MPs for doing the same, the motion claims.
Department spokeswoman Carrie Braun says this is not true. LeFlore was vetted before being assigned to the evidence handling case, but officials only looked into whether he and other MPs missed the evidence reservation by 30 days or more. According to policy, MPs must reserve evidence before the end of their shifts. LeFlore was up to 24 days late – so he didn’t go under the ministry’s radar when he was assigned to the evidence file.
LeFlore has since been added by prosecutors to a list of problem cops, called Brady LIst, which is handed over to defense attorneys, according to the motion.
Accused faces firearms charges
The petition was brought on behalf of defendant Brittany Shahbakhti, who faces gun charges. LeFlore is a detective on her case.
According to the petition and sheriff officials, LeFlore, on a service call after completing his evidence-investigating duties, had taken charge of two boxes full of bullets, 11 grams of methamphetamine and a pipe stuffed in a pair of boots. He never reserved the property and two weeks later he placed the boots – with the drugs inside – on a shelf in a sheriff’s substation, with a sign saying “Free.”
LeFlore told a supervisor he confiscated the ammunition, but later said he did not recall seizing the bullets. Then he changed his story again, the motion said.
Court documents show that LeFlore wrote five times in his official reports that he placed evidence – usually documents and photos – in a sheriff’s locker when he had not. The evidence was recorded more than 20 days late on three occasions. But only the case involving the boots was referred to the district attorney’s office for prosecution, according to the petition.
“Indeed, the LeFlore investigation and related report which was completed in August 2018 were carefully crafted to withhold critical information from OCDA and reduce the chances of his being prosecuted,” the motion said.
Sanders said he came to this conclusion based on circumstantial evidence.
“The only reasonable inference is that the ministry decided they needed to send LeFlore back to the DA’s office so it seemed like everyone was treated the same, but didn’t want him to actually be prosecuted. The key was to omit all previous evidence of misconduct from the report, even if it was included for (other MPs). It also avoided the question of why LeFlore would ever have been tasked with investigating others for the same wrong he committed, ”Sanders said.
LeFlore, a 17-year veteran, remains in the sheriff’s department. He was also accused of accessing tapes of poorly recorded conversations between detainees and their lawyers. The ministry has denied in the past that tapes were accessed inappropriately.