Federal prosecutors in Omaha had been trumpeting the addition of a California prosecutor as an assistant U.S. attorney in Nebraska — touting his expertise in gang prosecutions, according to two law enforcement officials.
The problem? A California judge had removed the gang prosecutor from two cases after the judge ruled he had intentionally withheld evidence about jailhouse informants from defense attorneys.
U.S. Attorney Deb Gilg declined to comment on whether her office offered a job to Erik Petersen, an Orange County deputy district attorney who was embroiled in controversy in California.
Subpoenaed to testify about his handling of a murder case, Petersen had submitted a sworn statement in Orange County court saying he had resigned and was starting a job in “another state on Oct. 4, 2015.”
He declined to name the state. Two Omaha law enforcement officials say Gilg announced the addition of Petersen at a recent staff retreat.
“Plane tickets have been purchased and moving expenses have been paid,” Petersen wrote in his affidavit, according to the Orange County Register.
Asked if Petersen is starting a job in her office on Oct. 4, Gilg said: “That is inaccurate information.”
She declined to comment further, saying she cannot discuss personnel matters.
The law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, say Petersen was interviewed and was offered a job. Gilg has since hedged on whether Petersen is in line for the job, they say.
Assistant U.S. attorney candidates typically go through extensive FBI background checks. A simple Google search would have turned up news stories about the controversy that surrounded Petersen in California in recent years.
According to reports in the Orange County Register:
In March 2014, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals took the almost-unheard-of step of removing Petersen as a prosecutor after ruling that the prosecutor withheld evidence from defense attorneys in two jailhouse assault cases. The judge said Petersen didn’t turn over authorities’ agreements with informants.
Petersen told the judge that he had always planned to provide the defense with “notice” about the criminal history of the informants.
“There was never an intent to hide information,” Petersen told a judge at the time.
In a 506-page motion challenging the use of jail informants, a defense attorney questioned Petersen’s handling of gang cases and his failure to turn over evidence.
Months later, Goethals disqualified Petersen and all of his colleagues in the District Attorney’s Office from the penalty phase against confessed mass murderer Scott Dekraai, who killed eight people at a beauty salon. In doing so, the judge cited his disbelief of Petersen’s testimony.
Two convicted killers and one gang member arrested on suspicion of attempted murder walked free or received lighter sentences in cases handled by Petersen.
In one of those cases, Petersen was the prosecutor in the case against a gang member who was convicted in 2010 of chasing down a rival and shooting him in the head. Previously sentenced to life without parole, the gang member could be freed from prison as soon as 2019 after a judge ruled that authorities improperly used a jailhouse snitch against him.
A judge in that case called the district attorney’s and sheriff’s use of jailhouse informants a “black eye” for Orange County.
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