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Sheriff's worker leaves amid inquiry

The investigator was himself under scrutiny for allegedly pressuring a deputy to discuss her grand jury testimony.

September 06, 2008|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County sheriff's internal-affairs investigator left the department Friday amid an investigation into allegations that he pressured a deputy to reveal her confidential testimony before a grand jury investigating the beating death of a jail inmate.

Sheriff's officials would not say whether Jose Armas left the department voluntarily or was fired. He joined the department 25 years ago.

Armas is the second sheriff's employee involved in the investigation to leave the department since April, when the district attorney's office issued a scathing report about the 2006 beating death of John Derek Chamberlain at Theo Lacy jail in Orange.

"All I can say is he separated," said Capt. Dave Nighswonger, who oversees the sheriff's Professional Standards Division, which includes internal affairs.

Armas had been accused of asking Deputy Monica Bagalayos to tell him what she told a grand jury that was investigating Chamberlain's death. Armas was also called as a witness by the grand jury, which later summoned him again to quiz him on the accuracy of his testimony.

Armas could not be reached for comment Friday.

Bagalayos and other witnesses who testified before the grand jury had been instructed by Orange County prosecutors not to discuss their testimony with anyone. Bagalayos was fired in April, after transcripts of the grand jury investigation were released.

The grand jury investigation, initiated by the Orange County District Attorney's office, found that some deputies at Theo Lacy watched television, sent cellphone text messages and napped while they were on duty. They also allowed inmate "shot-callers" to enforce jail rules and discouraged some inmates from seeking medical treatment following beatings.

One of those deputies, Kevin Taylor, was watching an episode of the television show "Cops" when inmates sodomized and beat Chamberlain on Oct. 5, 2006, according to the grand jury transcripts. Chamberlain, a Mission Viejo resident, died from the injuries.

The inmates mistakenly believed that Chamberlain was in jail on child molestation charges. He actually had been jailed on charges that he possessed child pornography.

Dissatisfied with the sheriff's investigation of Chamberlain's death, the district attorney's office initiated its own investigation, calling dozens of witnesses and issuing subpoenas for internal sheriff's documents.

During its investigation, prosecutors learned that some deputies violated grand jury guidelines by discussing their testimony with others. Phone records showed that Armas and Bagalayos spoke for 16 minutes before she took the witness stand, and for 29 minutes later that evening. The two had been romantically involved years earlier.

Armas told Bagalayos to use his cellphone because his office phone "had a tendency to record things," according to grand jury testimony. Bagalayos said she felt pressured by Armas to disclose her testimony, and ultimately revealed the line of questioning. She said he told her to keep their conversation quiet.

At least four other sheriff's employees remain on paid administrative leave as a result of the investigation: Taylor, Deputy Jason Chapluk, sheriff's Special Officer Phillip Le and Deputy Sonja Moreno.

Taylor, Chapluk and Le were assigned to Chamberlain's jail module on the day he was killed. Moreno admitted to the grand jury that she had lied under oath when she denied having discussed her testimony with Taylor and other friends.

In the aftermath of the grand jury investigation, interim Sheriff Jack Anderson initiated what he said would become the largest internal-affairs investigation in department history. Four employees -- two investigators, a sergeant and a lieutenant -- have been working on the investigation since April, Nighswonger said.

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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