DA clears O.C. deputies in jail death of Danny Pham, says cellmate was responsible

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No criminal charges will be filed against Orange County sheriff’s deputies who placed a non-violent car thief in the same jail cell with an admitted double-murderer, despite the belief by prosecutors that the admitted double murder later strangled the thief.

In a letter released Tuesday, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said local deputies who run the jail were not criminally culpable for the death of 27-year-old Danny Pham, who was found strangled July 3 in a cell he’d shared with Marvin Magallanes, an Anaheim man who was in custody after confessing to stabbing and killing two homeless men.

A wrongful death claim filed by Pham’s family alleges that during and after the incident, jailers didn’t conduct regular safety checks of the jail cell, and that they then falsified logs to conceal their failure to protect Pham and to properly classify Magallanes. Those issues were not addressed in the letter released Tuesday.

The letter does mark the first confirmation from the District Attorney’s Office that it believes Magallanes killed Pham, and the office said it will move forward with prosecuting him, although no criminal charges were filed Tuesday.

The office declined to release further details pending the ongoing investigation.

Pham, a Westminster man who had been homeless, was near the end of a six-month sentence last summer when he was placed in the cell with Magallanes, who has a history of recent violence and allegedly hated homeless people.

Attorney Michael Guisti, who is representing Pham’s family, said Tuesday that deputies were criminally negligent when they placed Pham with a larger, stronger, violent mentally ill inmate.

“What killed Danny Pham was putting him in the cell with Magallanes,” Guisti said Tuesday. “Magallanes actually committing the act was the end product of the sheriff’s criminal act.”

Guisti, who said the DA’s decision not to prosecute jailers will not slow his client’s wrongful death suit, believes deputies erred when they failed to place Magallanes in total separation even though they were aware of his mental illness and violent history.

A month before Pham’s death, Magallanes was accused of assaulting a jail deputy and also was “sexually aggressive” with a prior cellmate, he said.

The claim alleges that Magallanes strangled Pham at 7:20 a.m. in their shared cell, in an incident that was captured by security cameras.

A jail employee delivering food found Pham’s body at 11:10, nearly four hours after he’d been strangled, the claim says.

After the death, four deputies and a civilian jailer were placed on paid leave as part of the investigation.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun on Tuesday said one deputy returned to work after three weeks, while the four other employees remain on leave.

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