Orange County DA Forced to Fire Senior Level Prosecutor Due to Misconduct


By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Orange County, CA – Last summer the Vanguard reported that Judge Donahue was asked by the DA’s office to throw out the 2010 conviction of Paul Gentile Smith for a high profile Sunset Beach murder due to evidence of misconduct by the lead prosecutor, Ebrahim Baytieth.

On Wednesday, the DA announced that the veteran prosecutor was fired following an internal investigation into withholding evidence in the murder case.

The investigation determined that sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors violated the man’s constitutional rights by placing him in a jail cell where he was targeted by three jailhouse informants, and then withheld evidence by telling defense attorneys about only one of these informants.

“I immediately hired an independent law firm to investigate whether there was a failure by the prosecutor to properly turn over discovery and whether the prosecutor was truthful in all subsequent and related inquiries by the United States Department of Justice,” Spitzer said in a statement on Wednesday to local media.

“I made it unequivocally clear when I ran for Orange County District Attorney that I would not tolerate the ‘win at all costs’ mentality of the prior administration,” Spitzer said. “My prosecutors will not violate the Constitution and the rights of defendants in order to get convictions.”

Baytieth is running for judge.  In 2012, he was named Prosecutor of the Year by the California District Attorneys Association.  And less than a year ago, Spitzer praised his ethics, referring to him as a “pinnacle of integrity” and as “someone you look up to, to guide you.”

But last summer, Orange County Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders told the Vanguard a different account.

“It is indisputable that an interview of an informant related to this defendant existed and was in the possession of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. It is also indisputable that the prosecutor had a duty to discover that to the defense,” Spitzer acknowledged last summer in requesting a new trial.

“As a result of that failure to provide proper discovery I was forced to make the very difficult decision to concede that a convicted murderer sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole should be granted a new trial,” the DA wrote.

But at the same time, Sanders pointed out that Baytieth remained not only on staff but in a pivotal position.

Sanders went further, calling the decorated Baytieth “the denier-in-chief of the informant scandal,” and said that “he’s the person that the district attorney’s office put out there to say it was untrue.”

Indeed, as Sanders pointed out, Baytieth back in 2015, as reported by the Orange County Register, called it “baloney.

“The notion that there is any effort on anybody’s part, at any level, to intentionally hide evidence … is from our perspective absolutely false,” Baytieh said at that time.

Sanders pointed out that they found out this was the case as far back as 2017.

“(We) put everybody there on alert that we knew what had happened and still he kept his position in the new administration,” he said.

Despite this mounting evidence against him, he has been in the role of overseeing the disclosure of evidence since at least 2016, according to Sanders.

In 2009, during the trial, they presented a single informant, Art Palacios, as being in the right place at the right time.

“That’s what they always do.  That’s the informant scandal.  They’re always just lucky—I call it coincidental contact,” Sanders explained.

But the reality was that there were actually three informants in the snitch tank, and they were intentionally housed with the defendant.

Sanders explained about the interview with Platt, who is the informant that emerges in this case, that “it’s literally the worst recording you could ever imagine getting if you’re law enforcement, because he’s talking about, you know, over a week to two weeks, beating him down to confess, and he’s talking about all three of them doing it together.”

He’s making false claims to Smith, he is doing everything he can to gain his confidence.

Sanders said, “He tells them all of this—he tells them all of this in 2009.”

As he explained, “In 2009, when they heard this interview, it should have been over in terms of informants’ statements.”

Sanders explained that all of this was known to his team in 2017—it was known to his team that the prosecution basically pulled the wool over the eyes of Smith’s attorney.  And despite this evidence that emerged four years ago, the DA’s office, including during the last few years under Spitzer, has simply chosen not to address this, according to Sanders.

Sanders, in illustrating how bad a problem this is, pointed out that “they don’t give special circumstance murder defendants new trials.  That doesn’t happen unless they know that the situation is really dire.”

While they definitely wanted a new trial—and ultimately couldn’t turn it down when the DA conceded it—they really wanted to put witnesses on the stand.

“We wanted everybody to testify—that’s what we were preparing for,” he said.

How they actually try the case at this point is going to be interesting.  Reportedly, the lead detective now is going to take the Fifth.

As Sanders pointed out, “You’re not going to avoid the questions.  You’re the lead detective and you covered up evidence for a decade.

“They wanted (the new trial) granted, so they could avoid the hearing in this moment,” Sanders explained.  “Now they have to deal with what they do next.”

That’s what makes this overall informant scandal so troubling to the DA’s office.

Sanders said, “This is always from my perspective the single most compelling, informant case that I had studied both in terms of the district attorney’s role and the sheriff’s role.”

The fact that it’s Baytieth implicated here should not be lost on people.

“It’s the culture (of the office),” Sanders said, pointing out that Baytieth is the guy “who’s running the Brady Unit…  He’s the guy who trains everyone.”

In a 2020 OCDA report the agency finally admitted an allegation that had been continually raised by Sanders.  For years the prosecutorial agency hid the most significant revelation of the scandal: Years of notes written by the deputies who ran the informant program. Baytieh was the prosecutor with primary responsibility during that time period for making sure evidence from that log which showed deputies committed misconduct would be disclosed when those deputies took the witness stand.

Neither the report nor the agency has explained how this failure to disclose happened or its version of who was responsible.

“We’re just touching the surface,” he said.  “This is an enormous problem.”


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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