Why The Sheriff Can & Should Be Removed from the Jails

I’m glad to see that the Commission Chair is feeling as frustrated as I am, fostering what appears to be the same concerns as mine — an obvious lack of will on the part of our elected officials, for whatever reason, to take the recommendations of the BRC seriously and a continued effort to protect the sources that recommended, approved and implemented bad decision after bad decision despite a multitude of sources objecting.

LaDoris Cordell is right, the plane crashed, and rather than hold the air traffic controller (ATC) that misdirected the plane into the storm that made it crash accountable, they’re pretending they can glue it all back together and everyone will forget the ATC can’t do their job without endangering people.

This isn’t just about “finger pointing” as Cindy Chavez tried to point out. And the spirit of cooperation, as Chavez stated in one of the many, many test versions of the Mercury article, has long been passed by the sheriff. She has shown no interest in meeting and working with her unions — her most important partners in getting the job done.

And Amy Le’s comment that we should give the sheriff a second chance, I would point out to Ms. Le that she as a member of one of the “uncooperative” unions, member of one of the union boards, treasurer of the CPOA PAC that helped lead the charge against Laurie Smith in 2014 in support of Kevin Jensen — you of all people should realize she has had a second chance and many, many more beyond that. From the fiasco created by the 2010 election promises that garnered her your unions endorsement until now, how many chances do you think she has been given exactly, that she should get yet another?

The sheriff can not be removed from her position of Sheriff, in that everyone is correct. Short of criminal actions being proven, her position is incumbent upon the voters either through a recall or regular election process. But that election only holds to specifically to the Sheriff’s Office. The Department of Corrections is a contract given to her by the county through the process of Measure A. Contracts can be subject to cancellation — just like her contract cities, parks, the medical examiner’s office (and there are interesting rumors coming out of there), and the VTA, other means of management can be found should she be found lacking.

Measure A was passed in order to hand the jails over to the sheriff in 2010 with voter approval; it passed by 77.6% of the vote. The Supervisors, in the verbiage, wisely provided a mechanism to widen their ability to get out from under bad decisions in oversight without having to go back to the voters. The wording specifically mentions giving the Supervisors “flexibility” in these matters.

To provide the Board of Supervisors with flexibility in operating the County jails to ensure continued cost-savings and improvement of efficiencies, shall the Board of Supervisors have the discretion to determine whether the Sheriff, Department of Correction, or any other department or agency, or any combination of them jointly operate the jails? – Measure A,  June, 2012 Ballot

Measure A is a Charter amendment that would amend Section 509.
The amendment would authorize the Board of Supervisors to assign
responsibility over any or all jail operations to the Sheriff, the
Department of Correction, or any other County department or agency.
The Board of Supervisors could also assign joint responsibility over any
jail operations to a combination of departments or agencies. The Board
of Supervisors could make these changes only by an ordinance
approved by a 4/5 vote of its members (i.e., at least four votes) to (1)
reduce the cost of operating the jails, (2) ensure the presence of
adequate law enforcement personnel, or (3) address changed
circumstances. – excerpt from the Voter Information Pamphlet, Santa Clara County

The jails are held by the county and the Board of Supervisors now have the “flexibility” to change the managing entity at will should there be a need to “address changed circumstances.” I would say that the change from a model and constantly improving facility to one of the worst in the state, to include prisons according to the Prison Law Office, would constitute changed circumstances. But it’s hard for them to admit this, they approved the sheriff’s poor plan and put her in place, and then year after year, they approved the horrendous decisions in her budget plan without question, often despite auditors and others pointing out specific items that should not be cut, like the Professional Compliance and Audit Unit.

The money saving reasons behind the sheriff taking over are beyond moot now. I do have to laugh at the desperate line that is being fed to the public by the sheriff, Amy Le, and Cindy Chavez at varying times — that the great recession of 2007, that ended in 2009, was responsible for drastic cuts in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, right into 2015 when the sheriff chose to enter more cost savings cuts by cutting 25% of the sergeants and replacing enforcement with corrections sergeants, and failing to provide sufficient means to replace lost investigative power. During the entire time there has been nothing returned to the jails, until someone died.

The sheriff stated during the last commission meeting that she’s done a lot of work in the past 18 months. What? We’ve seen some minor changes — complaint boxes, small policy changes, all usually driven by the actions of outside forces like the blue ribbon commission, and the ADA and Prison Law Office law suits.

What has she been self-motivated to make happen to improve the jails? Staff meetings? No, she cut those and the union had to fight to make them a contractual obligation in their MOU to get them back. She in turn re-implemented the meetings, adding back the 15 minutes at the beginning of their shift. But in her mind, “rewarding” the deputies for taking this meeting back with another hour of pay per week to attend the meetings was untenable to the sheriff. So she added the meetings, and cut their “short day” by another hour. Each deputy works a short day per pay period, this has been a means for the sheriff to pad the staffing numbers, yet save money without the public realizing the impact. Every day that reduces staffing in a somewhat invisible manner — reducing staffing for movement, doctors appointments, programming, time out of cells, etc. So rather than “reward” deputies, she further punished inmates by cutting staffing time further. So even improvements come at a price.

The complaint boxes? No, she ordered those and then had a deputy slap them up when it became a public subject. Apparently there is a policy, but like all other information, it’s only sporadically distributed. What has she done of her own motivation to improve the situation she gladly worked to create to fit her usual election point, how great she is with controlling the budget?

Is it really that unreasonable to see what she has done… or better phrased, failed to do in the jails and come to the conclusion that she is probably not doing so much better in running enforcement with the skill set currently on display? How long before we have a catastrophic collapse there? Do we really wait until that happens before we start to protect our systems from this woman any way we can until she either chooses to leave office or we manage to get her voted out?  And are we really going to pretend we’re protecting her the entire time because politicians are indebted to her corrupt power network and don’t want to risk her wrath?

Cindy, Dave, Laurie — your inability to manage the functionality of your county is your fault, not the fault of recessions that don’t quite fit into your time frame. Putting the CPOA commission representative out to the media with that line was abusive and disingenuous… and since you’ve been making it your point, it was also painfully obvious where it came from.

Let’s address how the sheriff gets it now and should get a “second” chance. Despite having “grown up” in these very jails when they were in very much the same position, with much the same results, the sheriff took jails that took years of suffering and fights to finally improve and in 6 short years she decimated them back to the same situation before the prior reform. She should have known better, and yet she promoted this path as her argument that she should be in charge as a “cost savings measure”. The Board of Supervisors bought into every step in every budget presented.

Despite years of people trying to point out to her the risks of what she was doing, she instead chose to cut those out who wouldn’t stop trying to get her to see what she was doing was not beneficial. She punished individuals, she smeared the reputations of her deputies in the public, she mocked her deputies as people who simply wanted a leader who wouldn’t hold them accountable. She refused to meet with the unions, both of which have been more than willing to work with her.

After Michael Tyree’s death, Walter Roches died in her jails. Rather than being up front that there were problems that needed to be investigated regarding his death, she tried to hide it. If deputies hadn’t gone to the media, Walter Roches death likely would have never even been realized as a potential homicide. As it is, right now, to this day, the sheriff is manipulating the situation to continue to hide facts — refusing to allow the release of the video of the cell extraction despite claiming it was “by the book” and “done correctly”. This would have again stood as fact if it hadn’t been for more deputies stepping up and saying it was not by the book, the FN303 was used incorrectly, Walter was “catatonic” and not actively resisting, that a lieutenant ordered the continuing increase of force against a passively resisting inmate.

We still don’t know the full answer to why he died, after being on a 24/7 medical unit for several days after the extraction, allegedly of a severe blood infection. The sheriff has no intention of giving us the answers. And Walter Roches apparently doesn’t have the family that Michael Tyree has to demand answers via a lawsuit.

But even those two deaths did not deter her need to hide the role of her poorly managed jails in yet another death, that of Vladimir Matyssik, who was released alone, suffering from Alzheimer’s, only to die after wandering onto the highway, even as friends and family were desperately trying to find him.

Even as she has sat in front of the media promising transparency, swearing she welcomed people looking at everything, as soon as something happened that raised questions, her “coincidental” timing and placement of cameras, the door slammed in the face of the public. We had no right to look at her “active investigation” that she had already released the video on. We had no right to ask questions like:

Why did you suddenly change programming policy in a notoriously tense unit with members of opposing gangs?
Why did you suddenly re-classify a gang shotcaller and move him into this unit a day or two prior to your cameras being installed?
Why did you accuse people who questioned this of demanding that the jails be illegally racially segregated rather than responding to the questions?
Why did you decide to put the cameras in the pod with the fewest issues because there were safety practices in place? There had to be a logic to this, explain it. Why would you not put it on a pod where there are significant use of force incidents? Or a location where there have been significant inmate complaints about abuses? If you have a reasoned logic for this floor, why not explain it?

These are just examples from the past months, even as she has been under the spotlight, of her unwillingness to be honest, transparent, and commit to not hiding things if they will risk her re-election. We have given her many, many, many more “chances” to do the right thing. Her obstinate intent to “stay the course” no matter what has led to the death of people, the injury of others, the suffering of many more.  Rather than change things, she hides and covers up more. She has met every incident with the words of regret and empathy, but more often than not the actions and manipulations of a crass, self serving individual who’s first concern has been and always will be themself.

It’s becoming clearer (if we’re to trust the Mercury News, they may change the story yet again) that the information regarding the “straw poll” of the voting commissioners that accidentally made it on the server Friday night was about public censure of the sheriff and under sheriff. For whatever reason, that censure did not occur. I am disappointed that it didn’t. The only thing the commission had the actual power to do, make a public statement about how offensive the situation has become under the leadership of these people that the public could read and the sheriff would have to face, they chose not to do.

The commission recommendations will be “managed”. By that I mean some will be done, the easy ones like complaint boxes. Others will be built into the new jails, but leave Elmwood and the other main jail tower lacking; others will be built into the facade with no real substance in practice; and most will slide by the wayside without mention again.

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2 thoughts on “Why The Sheriff Can & Should Be Removed from the Jails

  1. After having read the article this morning in the Mercury News about the BoS supporting the Sheriff regarding the jails even though she has continued to demonstrate the inability to manage and provide leadership, was unbeivable. Not only are the BoS condoning the Sheriff’s behavior but are accepting the liability at tax payers expense should more deaths occur within the jails. The Sheriff’s poor leadership, the fact that she doesn’t care about the lives of others, is unacceptable. The Sheriff prides herself as being a master of manipulation which is now obvious the BoS had taken, line, hook, and sinker. It’s time for the citizens of Santa Clara County to vote ALL BoS members out of office. And one has to wonder how this county was coined “Santa Claus County”. Let’s wait and see how much tax payers will pay out on future inmate deaths. Ridiculous!

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