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3rd deputy leaves amid O.C. jail probe

September 13, 2008|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

A third Orange County sheriff's deputy has left the department amid allegations related to a grand jury investigation into the 2006 beating death of an inmate in the county's largest jail, a department official said Friday.

Deputy Sonja Moreno was placed on administrative leave five months ago after allegedly admitting that she had lied under oath during the grand jury investigation into the beating death of inmate John Derek Chamberlain at Theo Lacy Jail in Orange.

Chamberlain, a Mission Viejo resident, was allegedly beaten to death by a throng of inmates.

Moreno, a 19-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department, initially testified that she had not discussed any of her testimony with friends or subjects of the investigation, but she later recanted and admitted she had discussed her testimony with others, in violation of grand jury policy.

Her last day with the department was Thursday, said Sheriff's Lt. Brent Giudice. He declined to say whether she resigned or was fired by the department, citing a state law that restricts the release of peace officer disciplinary records.

Last week, sheriff's investigator Jose Armas, a 25-year department veteran, left the force amid an internal investigation into whether he pressured another deputy to tell him about her confidential testimony before the Chamberlain grand jury.

The deputy who spoke to Armas about her testimony, Monica Bagalayos, was the first deputy to lose her job because of fallout from the investigation.

In April, the Orange County district attorney's office released a report that accused some deputies at Theo Lacy of watching television, sending cellphone text messages and napping while they were on duty.

The deputies also allowed handpicked inmates, known in the jail as "shot-callers," to enforce jail rules and discourage some inmates from seeking medical treatment after beatings, the report said.

One of those deputies, Kevin Taylor, was watching an episode of the television show "Cops" when he was supposed to be watching the inmates who sodomized and beat to death Chamberlain on Oct. 5, 2006, according to the grand jury transcripts.

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 the Chamberlain death, the district attorney's office initiated its own investigation, calling dozens of witnesses and issuing subpoenas for internal sheriff's documents. No deputies or jailers were indicted, but the district attorney condemned their behavior.

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

Taylor, Chapluk and Le were each assigned to Chamberlain's module on the day he was killed.

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.

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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