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OC grand jury quietly indicts former sheriff’s deputy in evidence-booking scandal

A fired Orange County sheriff’s deputy has quietly been indicted by the grand jury as part of the department’s evidence-booking scandal.

Nineteen-year veteran Edwin Mora was charged Aug. 5 with felony falsifying a police report in 2017, writing that he had booked a knife, methamphetamine and a glass smoking pipe into the evidence locker when he had not. Mora, 44, is the third deputy to face criminal charges for mishandling evidence after internal sheriff’s audits showed that deputies systematically booked evidence late or not at all.

Two other fired deputies pleaded guilty to misdemeanors for mishandling criminal evidence, but received no jail time. Joseph Anthony Atkinson Jr., 39, and Bryce Richmond Simpson, 31 — considered two of the worst offenders in the evidence scandal — received one-year each informal probation for willful omission to perform their official duties.

State records show Mora began working for the Sheriff’s Department in February 2000 and was terminated in August 2019. He received $274,485 in pay and benefits in 2017, according to the Transparent California website.

“We have taken this issue and the associated investigations very seriously, held employees accountable who did not meet performance expectations, and have implemented multiple safeguards to ensure this will not happen in the future,” Sheriff Don Barnes said in a prepared statement. “The charges filed speak to the integrity of the investigation that was conducted by the Sheriff’s Department nearly three years ago.”

Mora was one of 15 deputies initially referred by Barnes to the District Attorney’s Office for consideration of criminal charges. Prosecutors originally declined to file charges, but reconsidered after a more thorough examination.

The defendant charged in the case in which Mora allegedly lied pleaded guilty without knowing the evidence was never booked. However, the case later was dismissed and the charges dropped. Dozens of other cases have been dismissed because of mishandled evidence and more are being investigated.

A special prosecutor is examining other deputies involved in the evidence scandal, and more charges may be forthcoming.

The Orange County Register broke the news of systemic evidence problems at the Sheriff’s Department in November 2019, reporting that a sheriff’s audit had found that deputies routinely booked evidence late. The probe, covering the period from February 2016 to February 2018, found that 27 percent of the deputies waited 31 days or longer before booking evidence.

Nearly 300 items did not get booked for more than a month during the audit period. A second review, which included a sampling of 450 reports, found that deputies in 57 cases said they had booked the evidence when they had not.

Department policy requires that evidence — guns, money, drugs, photographs and other items — be booked by the end of a deputy’s shift.

Source: Orange County Register

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