The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has been ordered to reinstate a deputy who was fired for throwing evidence in the trash, among other offenses, according to a confidential arbitration agreement obtained by The Times.

Deputy Randolph Torres was fired in 2019 after admitting to throwing in a gram of white powder, a methamphetamine pipe, a replica firearm and several hypodermic syringes he did not enter into evidence. He also failed to reserve a cell phone taken from a suspect in a gun case and was accused of reserving evidence late in 26 other cases.

Torres told sheriff investigators at the time that he “panicked and threw the items away because he didn’t want to have administrative issues,” according to the document. His actions came amid a large internal audit of evidence reservation practices in the Orange County Sheriff‘s Department.

“He threw the objects away because he didn’t know how he was going to explain that he had clung to the methamphetamine,” the document said.

The discarded items were found by inmate workers sorting through the trash at the Lake Forest Sheriff’s Station. The cell phone was found in a bag in the trunk of his car; Torres said he kept it because he wanted to show his contacts to another officer for possible leads and he “simply forgot to record it in evidence.”

The department manual requires that all properties be recorded as evidence before the end of each shift, unless otherwise approved by a supervisor.

Despite the findings, arbitrator Catherine Harris ruled on Dec. 3 that Torres’ firing was excessive, and she said he must be rehired without back pay. He will lose about $ 480,000 in salary and benefits in the two years since his dismissal, the Orange County Register reported. He was first hired as an assistant in 2004.

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Carrie Braun said on Wednesday the agency was upholding its decision to terminate Torres and did not agree with Harris’ decision.

“It was clear that the arbitrator agreed with our assessment that the misconduct was extremely serious,” Braun said, “however, she inexplicably ordered reinstatement. While we respect due process rights of employees, we strongly disagree with the arbitrators’ decision. “

Corey Glave, an attorney for Torres, said the decision to fire the deputy was “preordained” by the sheriff’s administrators before a full investigation was carried out and he was used as a scapegoat.

“It’s inappropriate. It’s not due process, ”he said.

Torres’s case was part of a series of audits into the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s evidence reservation practices between 2015 and 2018. A close examination of thousands of cases found that MPs had routinely reserved evidence. late evidence or had not recorded any evidence at all, despite having written in their reports that they had done so.

The Orange County district attorney has dropped or reduced charges in more than 60 criminal cases related to audits, and three lawmakers have pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

In the most recent case, the felony charges against MP Edwin Morales Mora were reduced to misdemeanor charges despite prosecutors’ objection.

No criminal charges have been laid against Torres.

He is not the first officer to be reinstated following the scandal. Deputy Philip Avalos, accused of mismanaging evidence in 51 cases, was promoted to sergeant less than a year after the sheriff’s department referred his case for criminal prosecution.

The arbitral award says Torres’ mismanagement of evidence did not affect the prosecution in the cases to which the evidence was related. The drug paraphernalia case involved a stolen vehicle.

Harris relied on that finding in his ruling, noting that other employees accused of similar misconduct had not been fired. Among a group of five MPs sacked for missing evidence, Torres was “the only one whose missing evidence did not have a negative impact on criminal prosecution,” she wrote.

Yet the position of the sheriff’s department, also described in the document, said the claims that he had been treated unfairly were without merit.

“The fact that [Torres] falsified multiple police reports and then threw evidence in the trash to protect this case from other cases, ”the department said.

In his ruling, Harris also described Torres’ track record of praise, as well as his “truthfulness and cooperation” during the investigation.

“Based on all of the evidence, a bad decision by an MP who was afraid of ‘getting into trouble’ should not define the 14-year career of an MP who has repeatedly shown that he is able to contribute to the success of the department, ”she wrote.

In their 2019 dismissal notice, sheriff officials wrote that Torres could no longer be trusted and posed a legal risk, and that he had established a pattern of neglect and dishonesty.

Glave said he could not comment on the content of this review, but like Harris, he said Torres was “completely honest and up front with what he did and didn’t do, and he agreed. responsibility for his actions “.

“This is what we expect from officers and deputies, so can the community trust it? Absolutely, ”he said.

When asked how the Department can assure the public of its reliability in the future, Braun said Torres’ transition period “will include a review of all Department policies and an emphasis on importance of reservation procedures for evidence “.

She said her exact role on her reinstatement has yet to be determined.

Times editor Hannah Fry contributed to this report.


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