By David M. Greenwald
Santa Ana, CA – In December a top Orange County sheriff’s investigator testified that he believed it was all right to write in his reports that he had booked evidence when he had not, because he intended to book it later.
A motion by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders shows that this was one of a series of lies and inconsistencies by Det. Larson, who has since been promoted to sergeant despite this public record.
The Orange County Register at the time reported, “Detective Jonathan Larson wrote in several reports that he put evidence — including heroin and paraphernalia — into a sheriff’s locker when he, in fact, kept it in a locked office desk drawer. Larson testified at Orange County Superior Court in Westminster that the evidence eventually got booked, sometimes after 72 days or 98 days.”
He also testified that that the department had “no policy for handling evidence” although sheriff’s officials countered that, saying that they had “policy that evidence be booked by the end of a deputy’s shift.”
“Should it have been booked sooner?” Larson said. “It should have been booked.”
The day after his testimony was completed, on December 17, Larson was promoted to the position of sergeant.
“Sergeant Larson’s disinterest in accuracy and truth telling is also illustrated and corroborated by his numerous false reports related to the booking of evidence, and his response in court testimony once that dishonesty came to light,” Sanders argues in his motion.
For example, he notes that results of the OCSD’s Evidence Booking Audit indicate that, in at least 18 investigations, Sgt. Larson booked evidence five or more days late.
“This included collecting methamphetamine on December 27, 2017, and booking the evidence 27 days later on January 23, 2018, even though he wrote in his report dated December 27, 2017, that ‘I collected and booked the methamphetamine into Orange County Sheriffs Evidence at the Aliso Viejo substation.'”
Sanders writes, “There appear to be ten reports in total in which Sergeant Larson wrote nearly identical false statements claiming to have booked evidence when he had not.”
As noted by the Register’s coverage, Larson refused to see the problem with this.
“At that time when you wrote that on a number of instances, the evidence had not been booked?” Sanders asked during the December hearing.
“Correct,” Larson responded.
“So, it was a false statement in your report, would you agree?” Sanders asked.
“No, because it was still booked.”
Sanders argues, “In other words, in Sergeant Larson’s version of the truth, it is not a lie to write about an event as if it has happened—when it has not—as long as he intends for the event to occur in the future. It is unlikely any member of the law enforcement or the OCDA would accept this spin if delivered by any member of the public not wearing a uniform.”
Sanders noted that the sergeant’s “willingness to mislead” does not end there.
“During the preliminary hearing, the soon-to-be-sergeant was unwilling to admit that the late booking of evidence during the audit period had been in violation of the OCSD policy,” Sanders continued. “It is simply not reasonable, with all that has transpired since the Evidence Booking Scandal came to light publicly in 2019, that Sergeant Larson still remained oblivious to the evidence booking policies that were in effect during the time period covered by the Evidence Booking Audit.”
Sanders points out that the Secondary Audit report has been widely available for the past two years, which includes requiring booking of evidence the day it is gathered.
In a motion filed by Sanders to compel discovery, he points to what he believes to be perjured testimony by Sgt. Larson that his former Special Handling deputies hid from him that they were using informants to question defendants about their cases—claiming he only learned what happened because of the informant scandal.
During the preliminary hearing testimony, Sgt. Larson testified that he believed at the time that “inmates were placed in those areas to gather jail intelligence as far as ongoing prison politics.”
Writes Sanders, “He then claimed that he had been victimized by his own fellow deputies in the Special Handling Unit, who hid from him their illegal efforts to have informants question defendants about their crimes and that only because of the jailhouse informant scandal did he learn the truth about what had occurred.”
Sanders argues, “The OCDA should share the defense’s incredulity with the assertion that members of the Special Handling Unit hid their illegal activities regarding the use of jailhouse informants from Sergeant Larson.”
He believes that proof of this perjury “is highly likely to be found in the requested portions from the SH Log—a set of daily notes that was intended be read by each of the deputies assigned to the Unit, so that other members knew what was occurring when they were not on their shift.”
Sanders argues that Larson “reasonably knew these targets were housed in these modules so they could be questioned by informants about their alleged crimes and not “ongoing prison politics.”
This was hardly the only time Sgt. Larson, according to Sanders, crossed the line in terms of violating a defendant’s constitutional rights.
Sanders noted in the interrogation of Defendant West in this case, “Sergeant Larson refused to stop questioning even after West clearly said he did not want to speak and invoked his right to counsel.”
He pulls from the transcript of the interrogation where West clearly indicated he did not want to speak, and Larson continued the interrogation anyway.
“Larson provided inconsistent testimony about when he honors a defendant’s invocation,” Sanders writes.
As to what he would do if a suspect invoked his right to remain silent, Sgt. Larson claimed that he would turn on his recording device and “have them tell me yes or no that they want to talk.”
Argues Sanders, “Sergeant Larson refused to acknowledge that this response was incongruent with what he had done during the taped recorded interview: Defendant West answered the question on tape that did not want to speak and wanted an attorney, and yet the sergeant continued to question.”
Larson also denied that repeatedly stashing evidence in his desk was a violation of policy.
During his testimony he testified, “At the time there was no evidence policy stating that it needed to be booked in at the end of our shifts. So as long as we maintained chain of custody of that evidence, and we booked it, there would have been no violation of the policy.”
Policy at the time though read: “Property and evidence WILL be secured in an authorized Property/Evidence locker by the end of shift.”
Furthermore: “Placing items in an employee locker or in your personal vehicle for temporary storage is strictly prohibited.”
Writes Sanders: “Sergeant Larson committed perjury when he provided this testimony, further eviscerating his credibility on many issues discussed herein, including that he was unaware of informants being used to question defendants about their charged crimes.”