A Ventura County sheriff's commander did not violate the privacy of a jail guard when he opened a letter an inmate had written to the guard, a judge ruled Wednesday.
"I find no reasonable expectation of privacy for a letter addressed to a deputy in his official capacity, at his place of work, from an inmate," Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Hutchins said. "One should expect it to be opened by others. . . . My mail gets opened every day."
With that ruling, the unlawful-sex case against Deputy Douglas De Vall will now go to trial.
The ruling is critical because when Cmdr. Mark Stephen Ball of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department opened a letter addressed to De Vall last year, he found evidence of fraternization with a female inmate, authorities say.
As a result of additional evidence that emerged after the letter was found, De Vall of Camarillo was charged with four misdemeanor counts of unlawful sex with an inmate at the main jail on Victoria Avenue.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Tom Temple said three of those counts involve oral copulation. The fourth alleges De Vall and the inmate engaged in sexual intercourse.
If convicted, De Vall faces a maximum of one year in County Jail on each of the four charges.
On Sept. 4, 1997, a deputy found an outgoing letter addressed to Deputy D. De Vall at the County Jail from Jamie Slutske of Thousand Oaks, authorities said. Recognizing the addressee and noticing that the inmate had given her home as the return address, the deputy passed it on to her superiors.
Inside, they found a letter that began, "Blue Eyes. Hey good lookin' how have you been?"
The letter continued, "I miss you lots and I also miss your S--XY body."
The California Penal Code prohibits detention services employees, including deputies, from engaging in sex with inmates.
Until the day the letter was seized, Slutske had been housed in the medical section at the County Jail's Pre-Trial Detention Facility, where Deputy De Vall had been working.
Armed with the letter, deputies confronted Slutske, who denied having sexual relations with De Vall. But when they searched her cell and De Vall's locker, they reportedly found a half-dozen more sexually explicit letters.
De Vall's lawyer had argued the letter should not be permitted as evidence because officials violated privacy laws when they opened it.
A trial date will be set at 9 a.m. today.