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Sheriff rejects claims OC jail escape investigation is taking too long

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said on Monday that it appears inmate counts inside the jail weren't conducted according to department policy the day three inmates escaped on January 22, 2016. "We're looking at all of our jail procedures including the count," she said.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said on Monday that it appears inmate counts inside the jail weren't conducted according to department policy the day three inmates escaped on January 22, 2016. "We're looking at all of our jail procedures including the count," she said.

After the escape of three inmates from Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana last month, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens is defending her department against criticisms the investigation is taking too long.

"Assertions that the department is not moving quick enough are blatantly false,” Hutchens said in a letter to Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.

Hutchens said Thursday she is taking a methodical approach to what amounts to a multifaceted investigation. In addition to a criminal investigation into the escape, they're also looking into any possible misconduct by deputies and into hardening the facility itself.

“We certainly want to get it done as soon as we can, but we’re not going to miss any of the steps along the way,” Hutchens told KPCC.

She also said that some procedures were tightened up directly after the escape, one of which is counting the inmates — something that went wrong when the three inmates escaped in January.

New enhancements like cameras and motion sensors for the jail are also on Hutchens' mind. She said she has drawn up a list of improvements the jail needs. 

In her letter to the board of supervisors, Hutchens also responded to criticisms that staffing is an issue in the jail. She wrote that nothing so far in the investigation has showed that lack of staff contributed to the escape.

“I don’t believe at just throwing staffing at a problem," Hutchens told KPCC. 

Hutchens' comments on the ongoing investigation come after the union for the OC Sheriff's Department filed a lawsuit against the department, claiming jail guards are in danger with cuts in both staffing and inmate counts. 

Hutchens wrote in her letter that the lawsuit will in no way interfere with the investigation.

Meanwhile, interviews are still being conducted and search warrants are still being issued to delve into the details of the inmates' escape and to identify everybody involved, according to Hutchens. 

“There will be a finality to it, there will be an end to it, but it’s gonna take time," Hutchens said. "I know that’s hard for people, but I want to reassure the public that we have made immediate fixes and we will continue to make enhancements but we want to make sure we’re being prudent in that.” 

Hutchens will meet in a closed session with the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 23 to discuss the investigation, and the state of the jail.

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