It was a critical piece of evidence: an inmate’s shirt, bloodied from a jailhouse brawl.
When it went missing, Deputy Jose Ovalle had an idea.
He picked out a similar shirt, doused it with taco sauce and snapped a photograph, which was booked into evidence with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, law enforcement records show.
When confronted later, the deputy admitted to faking the blood.
Ovalle kept his job, but his name was placed on a secret Sheriff’s Department list that now includes about 300 deputies with histories of dishonesty and similar misconduct, a Los Angeles Times investigation has found. The list is so tightly controlled that it can be seen by only a handful of high-ranking sheriff’s officials. Not even prosecutors can access it.
Amid growing public scrutiny over police misconduct, Sheriff Jim McDonnell wants to give the names on the list to prosecutors, who are required by law to tell criminal defendants about evidence that would damage the credibility of an officer called as a witness. But McDonnell’s efforts have ignited a fierce legal battle with the union that represents rank-and-file deputies.
The dispute, which the California Supreme Court is expected to decide next year, is playing out in a state with some of the nation’s strictest secrecy laws on police misconduct. California is among 22 states that keep officer discipline from the public, but it is the only one that blocks prosecutors from seeing entire police personnel files.