Radley Balko writes:
In October, Jagels told the Bakersfield Californian that after 26 years in office, he won’t be running for reelection in 2010. Good riddance to him. […] If history dispenses justice more honorably than Ed Jagels ever did, the boyish-looking D.A. will be most remembered for his role ruining countless lives in perhaps the most shameful of the Reagan-era “tough on crime” debacles: the coast-to-coast sex abuse panic of the 1980s. […]
Relying on suggestive police and social worker interrogations of children, Jagels’ office put 26 people behind bars on felony child sex abuse charges in the 1980s and ‘90s. Of those 26 convictions, 25 have since been overturned.
The details were lurid, and bore striking similarity to the fantastical stories that were springing from similar cases all over the country, from Florida to Massachusetts to Washington State. Parents were accused of having sex with their own children, of forcing young siblings to have sex with each other, of inviting neighbors over for adult-child orgies. When the national panic began to include stories of cult activity and Satan worship, Jagels’ and the Kern County Sheriff’s Department managed to locate that sordid activity in Bakersfield, too. Now children began telling investigators they had been forced to drink blood; they were hung from ceilings naked and beaten; infants were sodomized, murdered, and cannibalized. There was never any physical evidence to back the accusations. The photos the children alleged the accused to have taken during the acts never surfaced. The bodies of the murdered babies were never found. In one case a child alleged to have been murdered was found alive and healthy, living with her parents.
Many of Jagels’ victims are profiled in the moving 2008 documentary Witch Hunt. They aren’t limited to the people he put in prison. Particularly wrenching are the interviews with children who made the false accusations. They’re now adults, and have carried unfathomable guilt and remorse. Some of these children put their parents in prison for a decade or more. In one scene, a man who falsely accused his neighbor of molesting him as a child breaks down in tears as he explains how due to fear and guilt, he’s never been able to bathe his own son. […]
Perhaps the most troubling thing about Ed Jagels’ career is that not only have the legal and political systems in California never sanctioned him for his monstrous behavior, he’s been regularly rewarded for it. He has served as both president and director of the powerful California District Attorneys Association (CDAA), and on a number of blue ribbon panels charged with advising state officials on crime policy. Upon Jagels’ retirement announcement, Scott Thorpe, the current head of the CDAA, told the Associated Press that Jagels is a “prosecutor’s prosecutor,” a remarkable and revealing statement of that organization’s commitment to justice. Jagels is also listed as a crime policy advisor to Meg Whitman, a leading candidate for the California GOP’s 2010 gubernatorial nomination.