11/22/2014

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Yakima County sheriff talks changes after eavesdropping scandal

Yakima County sheriff talks changes after eavesdropping scandal
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima County's sheriff says changes will be made after an eavesdropping scandal at the county jail. A drug suspect was allowed to go free because his constitutional rights were violated in the jail.

The sheriff's office has already started an internal investigation to see what went wrong in the Daniel Woolem case. Specifically, how someone was able to listen to Woolem's jailhouse phone calls with his attorney. That move prompted a judge to dismiss the drug case against him. Sheriff Ken Irwin outlined his plans for making sure that never happens again.

Sheriff Irwin opened up about the latest controversy plaguing his office after the Daniel Woolem decision.

"What is your reaction to the ruling?" KIMA asked.

"Well...disappointment," said Irwin. "And, a need for the agency to take a look at exactly what happened on our part. And, make any corrections needed."

A couple of steps are being taken right off the bat. First, the sheriff's office launched an internal investigation into the conduct of Detective Robert Tucker. Authorities say he listened in on phone calls between Woolem and his attorney in 2011.

A second step is to get prosecutors involved earlier to decide whether a jailhouse conversation is privileged.

"Instead of having the detective as the only one that would self-report, it has to be vetted through the prosecutor's office now first.," said Irwin. "And, then it would go to a detective to listen."

The sheriff says his office is reinforcing the importance of inmates' constitutional rights to detectives. Still, he says, the screening system to avoid recording calls with attorneys was flawed. A checklist that maintained the list of attorney phone numbers was incomplete.

"We were given the false impression that all attorney numbers were deleted or blocked."

The Yakima County Prosecutor's Office has also come under scrutiny for the eavesdropping issue. In an e-mail to KIMA, Prosecuting Attorney James Hagarty said: "We are not commenting on the ruling until we have had time to fully analyze the decision."

Sheriff Irwin downplays the idea that this opens the door for defense attorneys to check phone records and help their clients get off easy.

"A lot of bad guys have gone to jail that needed to go to jail. So, they should be reassured by that. What has happened lately has been an exception that happened two years ago."

This is the second case of jailhouse eavesdropping. The first involved calls between West Valley triple murder suspect Kevin Harper and his attorney. Harper reached a plea deal with prosecutors, putting an end that investigation.
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