If you think this story is just about people with badges doing bad things, think again. There’s plenty of blame to go around, including people who might normally be excluded from ‘the usual suspects.’
We have great candidates challenging the current County Sheriff and District Attorney. Their campaigns reflect the growing public desire to make the ‘Justice’ part of the Criminal Justice System an equal partner.
The institutions charged with protecting people and administering justice are, all-too-often, ailing–infected with racism, plagued by cronyism, and paralyzed by self-interest. Sworn personnel are expected to be enforcers of perceived class privilege by those benefitting from such advantages.
I’ll start with examples from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.
From today’s Union-Tribune:
A fourth alleged victim has agreed to settle a lawsuit against San Diego County, accepting $240,000 in damages for an alleged sexual misconduct claim lodged against sheriff’s Deputy Richard Fischer.
The settlement pushed the total amount of money paid by the county past $900,000, and eleven other cases remain to be resolved. Fischer pleaded not guilty to 14 criminal counts filed earlier this year and faces trial later this year…
You could say the system is working, right? One bad apple and all that… Except the complaints against this Deputy were not initially taken seriously. Except that it took months for charges to be referred to the District attorney’s office. Except that this case isn’t isolated. And there are 11 more women waiting to hear about their damage claims.
In another instance, Assistant Sheriff Rich Miller resigned in March after a female coworker decided she’d had enough and came forward with years worth of stories about being sexually harassed.
The employee claims that on at least five occasions while she was employed as an Administrative Secretary with the Detention Services Bureau, Miller inappropriately hugged her and thrust himself on her in a sexually suggestive way. She also said in the claim that Miller only hugged her in that manner when the two were alone.
According to the claim, the alleged harassment led the victim to seek medical treatment and counseling from a therapist as a result.
As an assistant sheriff — one of three on the department’s executive staff — Miller ran the Sheriff’s Detention Services Bureau, which oversees the seven county jails.
I’m including this mention of Assistant Sheriff Miller because it’fits into a story told by City Beat columnist Aaryn Belfer on the quest of voting rights advocates to get access to the 65 to 70 percent of people legally eligible to vote who are incarcerated in San Diego County jails.
We’re talking about roughly 3500 people who are 18, U.S. citizens, and not on parole or sentenced to a state or federal prison. These are people arrested but not tried, stuck in jail limbo for weeks, months.
Infractions can be minor, such as being homeless and having a pocketknife. They can be erroneously invented, such as when Aaron Harvey and others known as the San Diego 33 were incarcerated for nearly a year on false charges. Many remain incarcerated because they can’t afford the price of bail.
Pillars of the Community, an organization in Southeast San Diego focused on supporting and assisting those affected by the criminal justice system, worried that the sheriff’s office wasn’t going to concern itself with the voting rights of those in its custody. They were right to be concerned.
Last December, Pillars representatives Laila Aziz and Jess Jollett sat down for a meeting with Registrar of Voters Michael Vu and members of his staff. (Assistant Sheriff of Detentions Rich Miller was supposed to be present but pulled a no-show and resigned shortly after in one of two sex scandals plaguing the Sheriff’s office.)
Miller’s replacement as jail overseer, Sheriff’s Commander John Ingrassia, has denied the group requests for access even as they have demonstrated having met all the legal criteria. It appears they’ll have to get a court order to make it possible for these inmates to vote.
In the meantime, they’re sending emails, having filed a California Public Records Act request for the names, booking numbers and facilities of every inmate.
A County Grand Jury has issued a report making recommendations for improving the city agency charged with oversight of San Diego Police Department.
City of San Diego voters overwhelmingly approved Measure G in 2016, a watered-down measure supporters hoped would improve the performance of San Diego’s Community Review Board on Police Practices, which evaluates public complaints about local police officers.
The grand jury report noted these reforms had not been put in place.
The Grand Jury recommends that the San Diego Mayor and City Council consider:
— Taking steps to bring forward the rules and regulations necessary to implement Measure G for approval within three months. The rules and regulations should provide solutions to the following deficiencies:
— a. The need for the CRB to have the ability and authority to track all complaints.
— b. The inability of the CRB and the SDPD IA to jointly categorize all complaints.
— c. The inability of the CRB to review all SDPD IA investigations of complaints whether the complaints were submitted to the SDPD or to the CRB.
— d. The need to clarify if the CRB has the authority to determine who may attend closed sessions other than the members of the board.
— e. The lack of required CRB periodic reports on all cases, or at least a summary of all cases, for review to the Mayor and City Council.
— Consider proposing an amendment to the City Charter to give the CRB Subpoena power, the authority to perform independent investigations of citizen complaints, independent investigators, and the authority to report directly to the Mayor and City Council.
— Taking action to begin filling CRB Appointed Member and Prospective Member vacancies immediately.
The citizens of San Diego wanted better oversight. The Mayor’s office has opted to mostly ignore the law. The grand jury was too polite to come out and say such a thing.
Take the last item in the Grand Jury’s list, for instance. The Mayor’s office hasn’t nominated any people to the what’s supposed to be on the 23 person board since December 2016, the month after the law passed.
Attrition through resignations and the expiration of term appointments means there ae now only 16 people serving in that capacity. Meetings are canceled due to a lack of a quorum. And there are qualified people willing to step up to do the job.
Why isn’t it happening? I’d venture an educated guess that Kevin Faulconer has some political debts to pay, and not pissing off the SDPD–which hates the idea of outside oversight–is part of that process.
I would also maintain this is an example of the “Blue Wall” which all-too-often serves to protect those who have agendas other than serving and protecting the community.
Finally, let’s take a look at the expectations part of this equation.
Back in April, there was a boisterous demonstration outside a meeting of the San Diego Democratic Central Committee.
One of the issues people were upset about had to do with the treatment of the Martin Luther King Jr Democratic Club at a party event.
In other words, there were Black people making noise outside the meeting hall.
Phone logs released under a PRA request show calls made to the San Diego Police Department on behalf of the Democratic Party claimed acts of violence were taking place. This claim simply wasn’t true.
What I believe is true is the white people in the leadership of the Democratic Party making the phone calls had the expectation of the police showing up to be their personal racism valets.
Fortunately, there were plenty of people shooting videos with their cell phones, so when the police arrived, arrests were averted. SDPD officers handled the situation in a professional and courteous manner.
You can’t separate this incident from the other examples of racial injustice around the country, even if there were no arrests. The assumption being made by those calling the police was that arrests would be made.
As an op-ed in the Washington Post pointed out:
Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of biting commentary about things Black people can’t do without a white person calling the police: sit at a Starbucks, eat at Waffle House, work out at a gym, move into an apartment, go golfing, travel by plane, barbecue in a park, shop for prom, buy a money order to pay the rent, check out of an Airbnb, or take a nap in the common area of their own Ivy League college dorm. As many point out, these calls bring the police, and with the police comes real fear that they will show up with guns drawn, weapons that they might even use…
…As the political commentator Jason Johnson noted recently, “calling the police is the epitome of escalation, and calling the police on black people for non-crimes is a step away from asking for a tax-funded beatdown, if not an execution.” Johnson argues that these callers aren’t expecting cops to treat black folks politely, but instead to remind them that the consequences for making white people angry or uncomfortable could be harassment, unfair prosecution or death.
And here’s the thing; there are better ways to deal with most situations (excepting violent crimes or endangered lives) than calling the police.
For further information: What to Do Instead of Calling the Police
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