May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor

The media is rank with “concern” today for a deputy seriously injured on the job. The concern is stunning in light of past events involving injured deputies. It’s almost as if the sheriff is intentionally using this incident to make sure the public knows she cares about her deputies. I mean inside, we all know she doesn’t, but there is a chance you, the uninitiated, might still buy the story and give her a pass.

I don’t believe her concern for a moment. The “we’re so fortunate it wasn’t worse” is nauseating. It took TWO DAYS to do a complete sweep of a dorm where gang members clearly had a) contraband, possibly used to make alcohol and b) some substance available by which at least one inmate was impaired. Two days to find a home made weapon that they state without reserve “was already there during the attack but not used.” Whether or not it was there during the attack speaks volumes — a statement to the state of affairs, if you will. If it was there, it took 2 days to find. If it was not there, it took only two days, in a dorm theoretically under higher than normal scrutiny to either make it or transport it there. Neither speaks well of how effective the sheriff’s “changes” have been, how it’s improved safety for inmates, certainly not a bit for deputies.

This is the usual “hurry, but don’t expend too much effort or resources” attitude of the sheriff’s office administration, even as she plays the role of the thankful victim on the news. The attitude that all she has to do is implement the minimum and convince the public she’s fixing the current problem and more likely did more to help rather than prevent the assault on a deputy trying to do a job made more dangerous by his boss.  Aren’t we lucky law enforcement can’t  strike and refuse to go to work under these conditions?  But that means it leaves us to make sure changes actually happen and we’re not just fed empathy from a sociopath.

But to be honest this deputy is lucky in another respect, at least his case brought attention to yet another failure, not that this would bring him a lot in the way of solace. The deputy injured in a hit and run not long ago, the sheriff did not really care enough to even really make the public aware and ask for assistance in identifying the vehicle. When the suspect was identified, deputies were ordered to not press the issue and let the suspect go, even though I’ve been told the incident ended up being caught on a nearby camera.  Our sheriff found her constituency more important than her job and her deputy. She didn’t want to make waves with her Cupertino constituents by arresting one of them for a felony hit and run. We didn’t see the sheriff telling us how fortunate that deputy was, or how she was going to ensure that charges were pressed when the suspect was caught. From looking at past stories, the local media didn’t even jump to the story, most of the reports were simply picked up off a local newswire and they certainly never asked for a follow up on the deputy or the case.

Yes, that incident was outside the jails, but what about the deputy that was attacked while we were having the discussions about increased violence they’re seeing since AB109? At least one deputy was assaulted and sent to the hospital with a major injury during that time. Where was the sheriff’s concern about her staff then? Where was the media showing us how thankful our sheriff was that he wasn’t even more seriously injured? Why weren’t policies changed then, or during any of the other “commonplace” attacks that should have been an indicator to a sheriff with a “unique global understanding” of what is needed for success in these environments?

Here’s another indicator that should elicit concern about the veracity of our sheriff. It appears there are 2 versions of the story she’s telling the media, either that or certain media outlets are softening the story to some degree for her. Many of the local main media sources indicated the officer was attacked and imply in their story that he was immediately able to call for assistance and the deputy was under attack for “only a minute”. The Union City Patch however, indicates the deputy was under attack for at least two minutes. After sending a first distress call, he at some point lost control of his radio, but was able to regain it and send a second “garbled message” over the radio according to this version by the sheriff.

Why 2 minutes to respond? Because there is no spare personnel. Let me provide you with a quick background here. M4 is a building with four pods and a control center. That means there are typically six personnel assigned to the building. One for each pod, one the control and then a “movement” officer. But, with staffing cuts often times these buildings are only run with four officers, which means no spare officers and one pod being on a rotational “lock down.” A deputy has to ensure his or her own assignment is locked down and fully secure, then leave inmates under his assignment alone to respond to a distress call. Can you imagine having to hear one of your co-workers in fear for his life, knowing he’s in a room with 40+ gang members and not be able to either immediately respond or have anyone immediately available respond to assist him? To have to hear that second call, or worse, be the one making that second call for help not knowing how much longer it will be?  Knowing that could just as easily have been you, alone, under attack and hoping someone gets there in time to help?  Again, lucky they can’t strike, aren’t we?

This isn’t the first attack, the Mercury made it clear in one work, “commonplace”.  Why hasn’t the sheriff made changes, additions rather than continuing cuts in the face of so many events? What in the name of professional law enforcement makes her think it’s a sane idea to put a single deputy in to keep control of 40 gang members? Why do these changes in basic safety improvements come, not during the years we made an effort to make the public aware when she ignored it, but only when the sheriff needs to prove to the public the good will she claims she has for her own staff or try to pretend she had no idea her actions would result in dead inmates?

“…[W]e just are forever thankful that the injuries were not worse,” [Sheriff Smith] said. I can assure you, the deputy is certainly far more thankful than the injuries weren’t worse, that he’s not dead even. I wonder if the sheriff can even imagine being in that position or even understand what it is to worry about a day to day risk of her life due to a job made more dangerous by those who are supposed to take all measures in their power to make safer. She’s probably more thankful that his family won’t be able to file a wrongful death due to extreme deliberate indifference on her part. I can’t imagine if the deputy chooses to file a suit due to suffering because of her intentional professional negligence in ensuring a reasonable level of safety it will be cheap though either.

All this left me wondering, you claim that there are now 2 deputies in the dorm environment since the incident — did you actually break your own commitment to under staffing and call in someone on overtime? Or have you left another area dangerously short on staffing, creating similar or other types of risks? Knowing how you usually work, I would almost place money on the latter.

That the sheriff is conducting individual, in-person interviews with so many different media outlets is telling. Putting that personal touch on the concern she has; see, I haven’t thrown them all under the bus! I wonder if this is part of what $95K at a PR firm buys you.

How about this sheriff, this is a major issue you’ve known about for *years* and have continued to fail to address, It’s an issue I’ve kept mostly quiet about for several reasons, but maybe now it exactly the time to bring it up since the reporter doesn’t seem to have caught the reference:

“Inmate Daniel Reyes said in a legal claim that several guards pounded his head on a table and smashed him repeatedly against a wall after guards found a chewing gum wrapper stuffed in the lock of his cell, to which his cellmate later confessed.”  Mercury News, December 19, 2015

Since this is officially out on the table now, how about we address it. First, keep in mind, it appears that Reyes is being held due to his involvement in a cold-blooded road rage murder as you can see in the link to his name.  But then ask yourself, why in God’s name would an inmate get beaten over a gum wrapper?! What would be so upsetting to guards about a gum wrapper that would elicit any response, whether they beat the man or just tried to intimidate him into an answer? Could a gum wrapper be so serious? The reality of this is disturbing. I wondered, did the journalist, Julia Prodis Sulek, even become slightly curious why a gum wrapper in the door lock of a cell containing an accused murderer would elicit any kind of excessive response?

Let me tell you, the general public in on a little secret. The sheriff knows it, Assistant Sheriff Beliveau knows it, every single deputy in that jail knows their life or the lives of others potentially lay in the lurch should they miss that gum wrapper and the intent that lies behind such a placed item. See, stuffing a gum wrapper or other item into the locking mechanism will override the locking system allowing an inmate to leave and return to cells at will. There is “training video” about this (security deficit) “feature” of our jails.

Despite knowing this extreme risk, our sheriff intentionally increases its risk by under staffing our jails. Her policies demand reduced time out of cells because under staffing gives deputies to many responsibilities to let inmates have time every day and ensure they can still go door to door to check the locks — or they just don’t check the locks and hope for the best while trying to get everything else done. YEARS this has been known! Yet the sheriff has done nothing to fix the problem and her actions have potentially exacerbated it many times over with severe staff reductions and other cuts that infringe on safety practices.  I wonder if the Prison Law Office realizes that is likely at least one of the reasons she ignored their efforts to meet with her to resolve issues rather than sue the county. Did she think an organization like this would just go away given the circumstances?  Ignoring problems, or people trying to bring them to you to be fixed is not what a leader does.

Given all this and much more, forgive my crassness when I tell you I don’t believe the sheriff gives a rat’s ass about deputies and her alligator tears meant to fool you are an infuriating insult to those she endangers unnecessarily every day they have to work in these conditions. She has had myriad warning and opportunity to address these issues. Issues that the Blue Ribbon Commission has been diverted from because they chose to worry about the problems “at the door” and narrow their focus to a near laser point, the complaint process against deputies. Yes, we need better programs for the mentally ill caught in an unfortunate loop, and yes, the complaint process needs to be entered and stored on a system that lieutenants and captains all the way up to the sheriff herself can not alter or ignore. But ignoring what the Blue Ribbon Commission was SUPPOSED to do in order to create these programs isn’t going to save the lives of those who aren’t mentally ill, or are mentally ill yet have committed serious crimes and belong in the jails, or any of the deputies, or any other lives put at risk by her refusal to address serious safety issues with real solutions.

My last thought is I wonder how much of all the current problems can be attributed to some degree to the fact the sheriff STILL has a now confirmed Brady cop teaching in her academy, one of the classes being taught is leadership to her “leaders.” What message does that send to new cadets, line staff and her administrators about how to do their job?

 

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4 thoughts on “May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor

  1. Pingback: After Action Strategies | Casey Thomas' World

  2. OK Casey I got some corrections for you. The dorm houses 96 not 40 inmates in 48 double manned cells. The DESIGN INTENT of the dorm was for a 48 man cap. DOUBLE BUNKING was never intended as a designed operating condition. The reason: Simple, the suicide prevention fixtures are circumvented when the double bunks were added. TICK TICK TICK the time bomb is winding down……..The inmates in the dorm are “SUSPECTED GANG INMATES.” This is a lie because all the inmates in the admit Sureño Membership and are in the dorm to keep them separated from their mortal inmate the Norteños. The “Suspected Classification” is used for several reasons. First there is a long standing Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Milpitas and the County of Santa Clara to not house gang affiliated inmates at Elmwood, so for years admitted gang members have been kept there under the suspected classification. Second under policy: security protocols are different for gang members than Suspected Gang Members. You see full gang members have limited movement and for the most part kept in single man cells. The ratio of staff to inmate is also higher. As “Suspected Gang Members” the ratio is the same as any other inmate as are the movement concerns. The only movement concern is the Protective Custody Status (PC) these inmates have to keep them away from the “Suspected Norteño” inmates housed at EVERY LEVEL and area of the jails. Third: Suspect Gang Members are cheaper to house than Documented Gang Members………. How do you become a documented gang member? Admit it! All the Sureño inmates in the dorm have admitted they are Sureños. THAT IS WHY THE ARE IN THE DORM!!!!!!

    Just to make it clear. I was part of the Original Transition Team that opened The New Main Jail and the M-4/5 units. I was among the first to be assigned the “NEW” direct-supervision dorms. M-4 opened first, followed by M-5, and about 6 months later the New Main Jail. How these units are staffed now and function are a stark contrast to how they were staffed and functioned when they were opened. Upon the signing off of the Branson decree (which had mandatory Staff to inmate ratios and caps) and the dismissal of the Court Ordered Compliance Officer named Thomas Lonegran (sp?), the County began to cut staff to save money. We had to survive by operating under the mantra of doing more with less. Officer safety was pitted against cost savings. Officers and inmates were hurt more often with each cut. Services were limited or cut also. The slippery slope to the pre-Branson era had begun. Staff and the union fought each cut. We marched on County Board of Supervisor meetings and filled the Chambers with signs warning the Supervisor’s how unsafe the Jails were. Since no one had died yet, the cuts always trumped the safety of the Jails.

    There was a time the electronics in the buildings began to malfunction. Doors would not open, interior doors that were not supposed to open opened, and yes we were ordered to keep the dorms operating as normal. There was nothing normal. The sally ports did not work so if something happened when doors that were not to be open opened, responding staff had to make sure they had emergency keys from control to respond. Makes you feel safe and warm right? This continued for several days. I finally got fed up and began to “HOT BOX” the log. You see when the electronic log was created a special check box was created. When this box is checked, it sends a message and report to the Captain, Chief and to the Board of Supervisors. The Hot Box was created to document out of the normal activity that needed to addressed. Well a shit storm followed. In short I was ordered NOT to use the box EVER AGAIN. Later a fight happened because the wrong doors opened. We could not respond into the dorm nor could additional officers get quickly into the dorm because we did not have the over-ride keys. I was beside myself and documented the incident with the Incident and Crime Report numbers (IR# & CR#). I included the names of who had given the order to operate in this unsafe manner……… and yes I HOT BOXED IT! As a Union Board Member I supplied the Board of Supervisors with copies of all the reports. I also explained to them how to access the HOT Box reports. YES, I got wrote up and ended up getting 3 days off. Funny thing all the doors were repaired within the next two days as GSA worked around the clock. I took a 3 day hit for the safety of every inmate and officer housed there. When you are dealing with 4 dorms with 96 protective custody inmates you have a duty to keep them safe. You also have a commitment to your Badge Family to go home safe each night. Sometimes a line needed drawn. My 3 days were a small price to pay for a measure of safety that should have been a norm. Although this happened before Laurie had control of the Jails, those who made the determination to operate in this manner remain……….very close to her.

    You mentioned Deliberate Indifference. The fact that we are making the same mistakes we made in Branson screams it. There are several documented battles over Staffing & Safety vs cost Cuts. It got so bad that a former Chief sided with the union as best he could. It was not IF but WHEN this day would come. Luck has been on our side. Sadly Luck runs out and when it does the ghost of the past haunt us. If we are too arrogant to learn from the past, we are going to repeat it and worst. You tried to point out Deliberate Indifference as a LIABILITY: It is an operating mode. You see Laurie’s appointee to the Jails ALWAYS put cost cuts ahead of safety. It was more important for him to look good then to keep Staff and inmates safe. You can always find a scapegoat. He always played both sides against each other. Talk about liability. Someone who gives poor advise is a liability. The inability to see a fool is an even greater liability. Yes the level of liability is at Deliberate Indifference because the warnings have all been issued and saving money Trumped safety! Sad. All I know is I am glad I no longer work there and have to survive these conditions on a daily.

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  3. What you missed Casey is there have been a few “other” incidents involving us deputies and inmates. Let’s not forget the other incident where a Sgt was attacked just a couple weeks before this latest caper and is still off on injury. Nothing changed after that.

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    • I am always open to publicizing what I have enough information on. Please feel free to send info to my email Casey.Thomas.reporting @Gmail.Com and I’m happy to let the public know how bad things truly are. This story is far from done and I don’t believe I’m the only one working on some of the goings on either. More is definitely coming, one way or another.

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