A sheriff’s deputy in Orange County, California, allegedly broke into the home of a man who died in July for the purpose of stealing a range of items from his home, including ceiling fans and safes containing firearms.
On Thursday, Steve Hortz was arrested and booked into Santa Ana Jail on suspicion of burglary and placed on paid administrative leave, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Carrie Braun.
Braun added that the agency is “looking into the possibility” of getting him on unpaid leave.
The 12-year veteran of the OCSD was caught in surveillance footage repeatedly broke into the Yorba Linda home of the deceased man and left with various stolen possessions, including cases of unknown items, weapon safes, and household appliances like ceiling fans.
Hortz had previously responded to a service call on July 20 regarding the death of the man, who was in his 70s and died from apparent natural causes.
A week later on July 27, a uniformed Hortz broke into the unoccupied home through the rear door before leaving shortly afterward, yet it remains unclear if he committed theft on that particular visit.
In the surveillance video, the deputy could be seen wearing a vest with the word “SHERIFF” emblazoned across his back in bold yellow letters. His badge was also clearly apparent.
The sheriff’s deputy later returned to the home again wearing civilian clothes twice, on Aug. 10 and 16, during which he burglarized the deceased man’s possessions, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said in a news conference Thursday. In the nighttime surveillance video, Hortz could be seen rolling storage cases and the disassembled ceiling fan away from the home.
It wasn’t until Wednesday when an attorney representing the family estate of the man reached the OCSD to report the items missing from the home. The attorney also handed over footage showing Hortz breaking in, reports KTLA.
“Yesterday was when the surveillance video was brought to our attention,” Braun said.
Hortz was arrested the very next day, Braun said.
The department now plans to investigate prior calls handled by Hortz to determine if he committed similar crimes in the past.
“I will do everything we can to make sure he does not return to a uniform in this organization or anywhere else for that matter,” Sheriff Barnes said.
Barnes added that the crimes Hortz is accused of “undermine” the work of his deputies. In an internal memo issued Thursday, the sheriff reminded his subordinates that their “profession is under intense scrutiny” which requires them to “demonstrate the highest levels of professionalism,” reports Orange County Register.
Despite the apparent criminal nature of Hortz’ actions in the video footage, Barnes also noted that anyone accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“The suspected criminal actions of this deputy are a violation of public trust, are inexcusable and intolerable,” Barnes said in a separate statement. “This deputy will be held accountable through a swift and thorough process including a full criminal and internal administrative investigation.”
The revelation comes just days after OC Sheriff’s Deputy Angelina Cortez, 41, was charged on suspicion of stealing a suspect’s debit card and handing it over to her son rather than logging it as evidence. She faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison if convicted.