Santa Clara Sheriff Accused of Interfering with Medical Examiner Investigations

I hope some of you have taken the time to seek out the video of the budget on Tuesday and see what is going on with your office. There were issues that impact both the DSA and the CPOA. And I think it’s especially important for the CPOA to see the performance of their new president. It was… interesting. I’ve looked for media coverage, but it is shockingly mediocre, with the closest to comprehensive coverage coming from Mercury News.

First up was the IA expansion of 3 sergeants. The sheriff’s numbers just don’t add up in many ways. You really have to watch for yourself to get just how disjointed the information surrounding this request really is. Hearing the sheriff stressing that there are so many cases and the flow isn’t going to slow down and her people average 4 times larger case load than other offices around us, 20 cases per month to other offices average of 4 to 6 cases per month. Wait what? 6 people are averaging 20 cases per month in an office of roughly 1200 deputies, corrections and enforcement? I can seen the immediate fallout of what happened in the jails, those numbers seeing a temporary boost. But sustained at that level? That’s like 20% of the entire staff getting IA’d every year! I mean I know there are problems, but it seems the sheriff is taking advantage of the situation here.

It’s interesting, this unpredictable sustained increase. It didn’t  use to be this way. It wasn’t all that long ago that the sheriff “loaned” her IA lieutenant to Information Systems. She then replace that lieutenant with an enforcement captain. All temporary of course.  But with workloads like that, is it a good idea to switch people around like that?  She couldn’t hire an IT person to do the job? In Silicon Valley?

I wasn’t the only one who thought that seemed to be a long term excessive average, but the sheriff and assistant sheriff didn’t seem to have numbers readily available. Why would you not bring data with you to a budget meeting showing a need for a 50% increase to a division? There were a few cherry picked numbers, but there was not big picture, strategy, or timeline showing the increase was permanent. Not professional.

During the process the sheriff said that IA personnel are always fully sworn staff, preferably sergeants or above, with investigations experience. The first problem with that is that the lieutenant I just mentioned was replaced by a corrections captain; corrections personnel are not fully sworn, corrections personnel have little to no investigations experience.

DSA Vice President, Roger Winslow pointed out the other obvious problems with the sheriff’s claim — the sheriff has had contractors doing investigations for months now. These are not fully sworn personnel. No, not even the retired deputies, one of which the deputies is a Brady Cop, are fully sworn. Neither are the people from the private law firm she’s contracted. Yes, the sheriff got called out on this. I was surprised how often the sheriff was being called out, and not just by Supervisor Simitian, but the County Executive and Supervisor Yeager seemed to have decided to step up to the plate with the tough questions.

The one thing that bothered me is that the sheriff threw the CPOA members under the bus, saying the caseload from the jails was “extra high” and implying that problems there were the reason for the expected sustained increase they were pleading. She did appear to mention that all grievances as well as complaints would be sent through IA, and incredible waste of resources and time if anyone bothered to listen to the presentations to the Blue Ribbon Commission. But throwing down the CPOA as problem children driving an increase in IA level complaints to the point of needing a 50% increase in staff deserved a moment of the new CPOA president’s time during public comment to ask for better clarification of exactly what the sheriff was saying which never came. Roger Winslow spoke as well as Kevin Jensen on the subject, both expressing support for IA and concern about the sheriff’s goals and efforts to reach them.

Ultimately it seemed the IA expansion was suffering from real support at this point with questions on how to proceed, if it was necessary to proceed, and how to deal with the budget issue of so many unfilled openings. The sheriff has as much as $30M in her budget for personnel that goes unused as near as I can figure (very, very rough figure) and the supervisors seem to have finally realized it. There was a lot of discussion about approving new positions with so many unfilled. The sheriff tried to blow it off saying things like, Oh, we don’t really have that many openings, some of those are court assignments. Yes, they are court assignments. They are not being filled and badged personnel are being taken off VTA, out of investigations, and off patrol to fill those slots, so it they are relevant, sheriff. If the county had a clue how many bodies you have assigned to your office that are really in courts they probably would have been even more unsettled, I’m sure.

It seems to me staffing is a mess, virtually all the sheriff’s contracts outside her “safest cities” are an unmitigated disaster — the ME’s office and crime lab, as I’ll cover in a moment, the courts, the jails, the VTA still hasn’t been fully covered from what I’m understanding. Nothing is functioning as it should, including her own office. Now she’s shuffling bodies around and trying to blur the big picture.

I’ll say it again, the county BoS needs to have a forensic review done to find out exactly what money is being spent on and how bodies are being distributed throughout her enforcement and contract obligations.

This matter it seems will see further discussion down the road on how to incorporate this alleged need into the ongoing changes.

After that the subject of the Medical Examiner’s budget came to the floor. County Executive Jeff Smith proposed that the ME’s office be removed from the oversight of the Sheriff’s Office. To that end, Assistant Medical Examiner Michelle Jorden spoke to the problems that have been driven by the sheriff’s management of the office. Many of them came as no surprise — 14 captains over 8 years. This lack of consistency has caused “chaos.” Not something many in the sheriff’s office are unfamiliar with. The ME’s office has become a known “punishment zone” which probably subjects it to more movement than some other positions, but not much. This is a point that we’ve stated before, the constant movement of administrators disrupts the entire office, slows and even eliminates projects, and creates a situation where your lieutenants and captains are constantly behind the learning curve. It’s not much better with sergeants and deputies with critical assignments, such as detectives, with heavy training requirements have people moved out every 3 to 5 years.

Among the most bothersome statements verged on criminal accusations and demand to be investigated to the full extent. Dr. Jorden alleged interference with investigations and reports, attempts to keep public information from the public, and refusing to provide access to information and evidence so manner and cause of death could be effectively investigated. The sheriff has handled a number of investigations from her own office and has taken no measure to bring in independent doctors or move the investigation to a nearby county to ensure integrity. The death investigation of Walter Roches, a case in question by many, is being speculated to be one of the cases the sheriff interfered with.

After Dr. Jorden’s presentation was complete and conversation amongst supervisors began, Cindy Chavez, if I understood her correctly, suggested that given the issue of independence that perhaps the Crime Lab should be removed from the oversight of the sheriff as well. I haven’t dug into that issue much, but it is my understanding from my sources that suggestion is well placed. I’ve been told the sheriff has failed to provide the forensic personnel necessary to make the lab worthwhile.

I was and wasn’t surprised by Dave Cortese’s comment. He was concerned that the sheriff hadn’t gotten her say, and felt the issue should continue to be discussed, providing the sheriff the opportunity to tell her side of the story. Now this I agree with. We need to hear the whole story… and we need and investigation into whether or not there was illegal interference in investigations by the sheriff. What he said after though… we need to hear from the sheriff “to find out if these things are true.”

Two things on that Mr. Cortese. I doubt Dr. Jorden was up there to throw away her credibility and career with a pack of lies. I sincerely doubt “the truth” will be determined by the sole action of speaking to the sheriff, who in this meeting alone has been caught being less than honest. Not the first time she’s been less than honest in county meetings, either. I’m sure there is truth to Dr. Jorden’s testimony, and I’m sure there are other perspectives of that truth, some with more integrity than others. Allegations as serious as these need to be taken very seriously.

The final issue I want to address is the public comment that was finally offered by Amy Le in regards to the DoC budget. I was seriously disappointed, after watching Julio Alvarez as acting president represent the CPOA concerns so well, Amy Le offered a shocking contrast. Yelling into the microphone, speaking so fast from a written statement I was unable to understand the entirety of what she was trying to say, she was as poor a representative of the CPOA position as one could imagine. From what I gathered, she was wanting the 85 +/- hour shifts back for the CPOA members. If there was an argument in there for why this cost should be taken on again, I completely missed it.

The way things currently work (and I’m going to simplify this greatly and probably with mistakes, but close enough) is that corrections personnel have a “short” day each pay period (or is it 2, one a week?). This has rounded their pay period hours to 80 hours per pay period down from the 85. One negative result of this has been to cut an estimated 6 bodies, through half shifts, available for staffing needs. These 5 or so hours was “PERSable” meaning it was required OT that was scheduled as part of their standard shift and the county had to pay retirement costs on these hours. There was a rather large lawsuit over it that the CPOA won (as I understand it, the county has still failed to make whole the DSA members who qualified for these PERSable hours).

The resulting change when the sheriff took over and started to change things was move staff to the 80 hour pay period and work the rest on standard overtime.

In response to Ms. Le’s public comment Dr. Jeff Smith was blunt in his response that the sheriff could do whatever she wanted with shifts, including go back to the 85 hour pay period, but those 5 hours would remain standard OT. He unequivocally stated the county had provided the sheriff enough money to pay for whatever overtime was needed and there was no way he would see his way to approving those hours to go back to PERSable hours, which is ultimately what the CPOA really wants.

I did find it amusing that the union wants those 5 hours back, but everyone seemed to agree that they were having difficulty in getting those 5 hours covered with OT scheduling, which is voluntary.  The impact on one’s paycheck is the same either way the situation is handled. The difference is the money shows up in retirement funding, increasing eligible salary and thereby increasing monthly retirement payouts.

Dave Cortese again tried to open a door here, trying to point out to Dr. Smith that it was a bargaining unit issue and could be negotiated. Dr. Smith agreed it could brought to negotiations as part of the MOU but he didn’t see the county giving up the point because there was no benefit to the county and the costs were too high. He would stick with the standard overtime and the sheriff “could have as much overtime as she wanted, to distribute on whatever kind of schedule she wanted, but not PERSable OT.”

So that’s the summary of highlights, without the finer points of events. If you wish to see the conversations for yourself you can find the video at http://sccgov.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=7827

The discussion about adding 3 sergeants to Internal Affairs begins around 01:36 (or click on Item 91)
The discussion about the ME’s office begins around 02:11 (or click on item 92)
The discussion and public comment on the DoC budgets starts around 02:35 (or click on item 94)

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Santa Clara Sheriff Accused of Interfering with Medical Examiner Investigations

  1. Yet, another question mark of professionalism. Where does the money go? Great question! You forgot to include the FST’s for the academy academy students. Where does that money go? She’s having the cadets do all the improvements at the academy. Where’s the money going? So in the words of Mr. McGuire… Show me the money!

    Like

    • All that and more… another point, I’ll probably hit it tomorrow after the meeting — if enforcement is only short 50 or so, and the rest are in courts which “don’t count” according to the sheriff’s statement on Tues…. who’s positions are filled and who’s are not… and who’s are only filled with a name while they work elsewhere?

      The entire office is a tragic shell game from budget to personnel. Nothing is as it seems.

      Like

  2. Whew! She is a piece of work, isn’t she? I have to say, I felt a bit of joy in my heart to see Kevin Jensen’s name mentioned. Glad to know he’s still around. Can’t we just oust her and put Kevin in there as he should have been all along? I pity the poor soul that will eventually have to go in there and clean this whole mess up.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.