Orange County

Register and author go inside OC's snitch tank

December is the month when newspapers rush to publish their big, explosive stories they hope will contend for Pulitzers and other prizes that reward for work in a calendar year. A few days ago, for example, the Los Angeles Times ran David Willman's investigation into how the U.S. Missile Defense Agency burned $231 million on a bad program, and the Times has been hitting the San Bernardino shootings hard in a blatant (but probably justified) Pulitzer push. And on Wednesday, the Orange County Register just met the 2015 deadline by running the first six chapters of an investigative report into OC's jail snitches and how by breaking legal rules to gather evidence on confessed Seal Beach mass killer Scott Dekraai, authorities jeopardized the entire prosecution.

More of the series runs today, but the project is unusual for the Register — and not just for its length spanning several pages in the print paper. The stories are a collaboration between several Register staff reporters and non-fiction author Edward Humes, a Pulitzer winner for the Register before he went off more than a decade ago to write books. He's got 13 to his credit now. (He also is married to senior Register editor Donna Wares.) On his author website, Humes on Wednesday posted a lead-in to the series and a link to the Register's website, and a notice that the series comes out today as an e-book — "my first true crime book since Mississippi Mud and Mean Justice."

From Humes' site:

The violence that followed just a few hours later would make national headlines. It would alter the course of lives and families for years to come. It would drag the peaceful, tight-knit community of Seal Beach into an exclusive club no one wishes to join: the fraternity of towns marred by mass murder. And, finally, the official response to Scott Dekraai’s rampage would expose and shame Orange County authorities who, in their zeal to ensure a win in court, had stopped playing by the rules that ensure justice for all.

The Register has a mini-site devoted to Inside the Snitch Tank that includes a bunch of other stories investigating the improper use of jailhouse snitches by Orange County authorities and the toll that has taken on criminal justice. "Jailhouse snitches are rarely prisoners who happen to overhear confessions," the paper says. "Inmates apply for the job and they become part of a roster of covert operatives whose surveillance on behalf of law enforcement has put the Orange County justice system at the center of a national debate."

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