It was a routine visit to her client at the Solano County Jail in Fairfield, on June 24, that landed Shelly Saini, a Solano County Deputy Alternate Public Defender since 2018, in the middle of unexpectedly being at the center of a complaint filed by a sheriff’s deputy.
“I have not experienced anything like the incident that occurred on June 24,” Saini told the Vanguard in an email on Thursday, several weeks after the initial incident.
On the day in question, she described going to the Fairfield jail in the downtown area to see her client.
“I was wearing a navy blue dress suit and a face mask that read “ADO for Black Lives. This is a mask that I had designed myself,” she explained.
However, when she approached the doors of the jail, “I pulled on the doors and noticed they were locked.”
She continued, “I asked the Sergeant who was standing outside of the building if I could get inside. He asked me what was on my face and I told him it was a mask. I pulled on the doors and again asked if the lobby was open.”
The sergeant continued to claim that the doors were open.
However, it was clear to Saini that they were not.
She said, “I pulled on the doors harder to indicate that they were locked.”
At this point, a female officer inside came to unlock one of the doors.
But the sergeant didn’t stop there, As the female officer unlocked the door, the sergeant asked why Saini was there.
She said, “I told him for an attorney visit.
“When I spoke with the female officer at the door, the Sergeant raised his voice louder and asked who I worked for, and I said the county. He then said he would be filing a complaint,” she said.
She added, “The female officer is the one who ultimately assisted me in seeing my client.”
Shelly Saini told the Vanguard that, to her knowledge, he has not yet filed any sort of formal complaint. He has indicated that he would follow through with one.
However, Saini does not believe there is much he can do.
She said, “It’s my understanding from County policy and the First Amendment that nothing prohibits me from wearing this mask.”
What he has done, however, is register an informal complaint to the Public Defender of Solano County, Elena D’Agustino.
“As he indicated himself in his informal complaint to the Public Defender, the Sergeant associates the words Black Lives Matter with the heat that law enforcement has been under recently,” she told the Vanguard. “I imagine that he feels frustrated with the stereotypes of being an officer in today’s society.”
However, Saini believes that many other people are also frustrated with stereotypes.
She said, “Black people. Unarmed people of color are just as frustrated, if not, more.”
Saini also references the recent incident in Santa Clara County, where the advocay of another Alternative Deputy Public Defender, Sajid Khan, led DA Jeff Rosen to file a formal whistleblower complaint after he took an op-ed posted on his blog and the Vanguard to be a threat to his office.
Under pressure, Rosen withdrew the complaint.
“Like Santa Clara County Deputy Alternate Defender Sajid Khan’s advocacy in his blog, and the numerous public defenders that participated in the national demonstrations on June 8th, standing up for black lives is embedded in our work,” she said. “We constantly hear from the victims of systemic racism–our clients. We are the ones that listen to their frustrations when no one else will.”
She added, “We are the ones who hear what happened when the body worn camera was not activated. We feel frustrated ourselves when we see the patterns of police departments and particular officers engaging in discriminatory conduct time and time again.”
These times figure to see more of these incidents as more people confront racism—individual and systemic, which are legacies from the past, but impact the present and the future.
Shelly Saini noted, “There is no doubt that this is a very emotional and tense time in our community, and country at large. But just because things are difficult and uncomfortable it doesn’t mean they should be ignored.”
She believes this incident to be a wakeup call.
She said, “For me, this incident was a wakeup call that my work inside the courtroom isn’t enough. For me to fully advocate for the rights of my black and brown clients, I need to address racial injustice in all aspects of my job.”
She added, “I wear the mask to further advocate for my clients, and to stand in solidarity with them and black people everywhere to say that their lives have value and their lives matter.”
A call to the Solano County Sheriff PIO on Thursday was not returned.
On Monday the Vanguard published a letter signed by 64 public defenders and other supporters.
It said, “At its core the statement ADO for Black Lives is about recognizing black people are human beings and their lives have value. For one to be offended by this affirming and fundamental principle underscores how little this sergeant understands what it means to be black in America today.”
They argued there is “nothing political about believing a Black person has the right to live.”
They concluded, “Ms. Saini should be commended for her willingness to call attention to the persistence of anti-black racism and the fact that violence and discrimination continue to threaten black lives. We stand in solidarity with Ms. Saini and affirm that black lives do indeed matter.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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