So Many Wrongs that Need to be Righted

The sheriff announced Friday that she was taking the “common sense” move of putting cameras in the jails. I’m at a loss. The Main Jail was built in 1988, Elmwood was built eons ago. The sheriff spent a significant portion of her career prior to abruptly joining administration, in the jails according to her. She spent 10 years as an Assistant Sheriff and is in her 5th term and 17th year as sheriff.

Why is “common sense” only being used now?

We’ll start with some of the history of the camera issue, and move through a few other “common sense” issues in this blog post.

I’ve spoken with people who have been in the jails and know that camera security has been a concern for over a decade. I am in receipt of an email that was written by a now retired captain outlining the need for cameras at Elmwood and that it was being investigated and addressed by a captain appointed by the sheriff for the job. That email is from 7 years ago now. As we can see, nothing changed.

I have spoken to another person, who stated that as far back as 2004 they had identified a number of security needs in the Main Jail, to include procedures, cameras, and other issues. To this day, none of those issues were ever addressed. Well, I take that back — common sense reigns as of Friday and they are addressing cameras.

As pointed out in the blog post I did the other day, security issues and systems were considered a major problem point to be addressed as found by the Civil Grand Jury. That was in 20007. So even if we use that as our official starting point, that is 8 years ago now. In 2009, the jails took a financial hit from ICE, losing millions by December 2009, 6 months later the jails were in the hands of the Sheriff on June 17, 2010.

It appears the focus since the sheriff took office has been slash and burn to make up for the fact ICE moved their prisoners to Yuba County. She has done what she stated as far as eliminating duplication of administrative positions. Those cuts however have gone much deeper than eliminating just redundancies.

I have seen staffing rosters from pre-Sheriff take over that put staffing, per shift, at 70 or more officers per facility. Today that number hovers in the low 50’s, and even lower if there are people off for vacation, sick, injury or training as they are not allowed to call for OT coverage. This should give people an idea of how severe the staffing issue has become. She’s further effectively cut man-hours by eliminating a half day from each person’s shift. Lowering staffing by as many as 5 bodies per shift in half measures.

It’s my understanding the night Michael Tyree died, there was only one detective for ALL jail facilities that could conduct criminal investigations. Enforcement sergeants used to be able to conduct these investigations, the corrections sergeants that replaced them have been given no training whatsoever to conduct these investigations — a majority of the job’s responsibility.

I can’t say specifically how all that created the situation where 3 deputies, each with less than 3 years experience, ended up alone on a floor that should have required special training and at least 1 person with experience. It sounds like they had been assigned there for some period of time according to reports, and it’s currently unknown if they were regularly there without some one more experienced assigned.

Assignments are done by the “Admin Sergeant” and I was told trying schedule assignments is a nightmare. They received no training, and the procedures they had to work within were poor. There is little to indicate to someone assigning personnel what level of experience a person has and where they may be best assigned.

The lack of training for this position, the poor procedures, the lack of clarity involving personnel specifics may have played a role in how 3 inexperienced deputies, one barely off his probationary period, ended up on a floor that required far more experience and oversight than they were given.

Training is a big problem from what I understand. It’s wanted by the staff, but it’s not supported by the administration. Corrections deputies are run through a short academy program, run by the sheriff when she could easily put them through the full program and just have them POST certified and walk out with several months more training under their belts to start. But she won’t. Even though fiscally and procedurally it makes sense.

Internal ongoing training that does exist was put into question by NBC Bay Area News when they showed a video that had been used for training purposes (and not to teach what not to do, for the record) of a then Sergeant, now Captain stepping on the back of a restrained inmate for no apparent reason.

Corrections academy has a separate structure, separate instructors, etc. Redundancy that the sheriff was supposed to eliminate has simply been recreated elsewhere and to no one’s benefit other than to prevent a cohesive work environment. At least two instructors I have been told of were involved in situations that echo the situation that resulted in the death of an inmate — targeting, for injury, cadets they don’t like or they don’t feel are “respectful”. These instructors were only addressed when their actions resulted in visible problems and liabilities, and even then they were simply moved elsewhere according to my sources.

Ongoing training, advanced training becomes a serious problem in the above mentioned staffing scenarios. Because they can’t get coverage for your position, you can’t get approved for training. This severely limits any advanced training experience that may create a more secure, knowledgeable environment with personnel know how to be proactive rather than reactive. It also prevents newer deputies from developing the self assurance to stand up to other staff members who may be doing wrong. Failure to update training perpetuates the bad policy of status quo — that’s how we’ve always done it — and reinforces bad practices passing them on to each new generation of deputies.

Paula Canny, attorney for Tyree’s family, unfortunately and without basis dismissed out of hand the importance of training, and the experience and oversight capabilities it provides to prevent this kind of situation. She doesn’t feel that training would teach someone it’s wrong to beat someone to death. On the surface of that, she is correct. If someone doesn’t have the moral code to understand that, you’re not going to teach them that. But training, experienced co-workers and supervisors, effective reporting processes to ensure strong oversight would identify and either neutralize bad behavior on the part of guards, or remove them from the job.

Instead a deputy with 3 years total experience was allowed to be the “senior” person, making the decisions on a dorm he had no business being in charge of, even if the was the kindest person. He had barely had the time to be fire tested as to his character, and in that short time he was reportedly already having problems — problems which there was no functioning system to catch and address with the immediacy needed.

I respectfully disagree with Ms. Canny on this particular point. While you can’t teach someone to have a moral compass and not do things like that, you can create the environment where they CAN’T do things like that. The situation that culminated in Mr. Tyree’s death didn’t begin that night. It began with discovering they could get away with abuses and those abuses escalating over some period of time. A system that allows that to reach the point of someone dying has failed. Miserably. Deputies with a handful of years experience are not the ones creating the system. That is our sheriff and her administration, who continue to maintain an iron hand in their micromanagement of all areas of the office. Not to ensure things are done right, but to ensure that the least is done, the least is spent. The philosophy is, if no one important is complaining, there isn’t a problem. The problem with that, is when someone important does start complaining, that means it’s reached the point we’re at now.