By Nick Domenici
SAN FRANCISCO – Since the uproar over racial inequality and systematic injustices attributed to the unjust killings of Michael Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner and many others across the nation by local law enforcement, the city and county of San Francisco will implement a new Sheriff’s Department oversight program.
During the upcoming election in November, there will be a ballot measure, Proposition D, which is intended to make a Charter change to implement a new Sheriff’s Department oversight program, the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board, and the Office of Inspector General.It will remove the SFSD oversight from DPA and create an independent oversight body.
The ballot measure would take complaints from inmates at San Francisco jails as well as from local civilians for actions exhibited by deputy sheriffs during an interaction or instance. Furthermore, it would investigate the use of force to cause intentional injury and sexual misconduct, as well as repetitive behavior of harassment, prejudice, and bias aimed at detainees.
This new agreement is designed to guarantee all serious accusations of misconduct by local sheriffs would be investigated and reviewed by an outside agency.
At a community kickoff via Zoom for Proposition D, local leaders included District Attorney Chesa Boudin, Public Defender Mano Raju, District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, Barbara Attard who is an independent consultant, and Joanna Hernandez who’s a parent activist who has an incarcerated child at San Bruno County Jail
“There are issues on which we disagree and there are issues that bring us together,” said Public Defender Raju.
“We cannot have faith in the integrity and the decency of people going through our system, if we don’t know the people with badges, guns, and uniforms are held to a high standard.”
It’s important to remember that folks in custody are still part of our community but are in our care and deserve to be treated as human beings with gracious conditions. They are owed dignity and respect, even though they are there in violation of the law.
DA Boudin provided a concrete example of mistreatment, saying “there was a so-called fight club a few years ago, where sheriff’s deputies were forcing people, incarcerated in county jail #4, to fight against each other. And those deputies were accused of placing bets on who would win the fights. They would withhold food from those who refused to participate in those gladiator type battles.
“Charges were brought against those officers, but there was a lack of independent oversight and investigation, critical evidence was tainted, and even thrown out. This case had to be dismissed,” he said, noting if Proposition D were in place, “we would assure the public that those who enforce our laws that violate the law would be prosecuted accordingly to due process.”
PD Raju made a key point by saying, “If this ballot initiative passes, the Office of the Inspector General and the Sheriff’s Oversight Board would have real investigative power. Each could subpoena witnesses and documents, and it would be mandated in the city charter that city departments including the sheriff cooperate with internal investigations. It’s a degree of power or autonomy that doesn’t exist now. It will be critical for family members of the ones incarcerated to bring complaints forward—and don’t fear retaliation for doing such an act.”
Raju added that there are egregious situations where this happens time in and time out. It’s an administrative segregation where inmates are locked up for 23 hours a day, with only half an hour to get some recreation and another half an hour for phone calls.
However, if you’re in a shared cell with another individual, you only are allowed two 15 periods for physical activity and speaking with a loved one on the phone. And these inmates are informed by deputies if there are no issues or write-ups for 30 days, they will be moved. Even if there are no write-ups, because of lack of proof or no records of it, the inmate will remain in there for an undetermined amount of time.
There are also instances of handcuffs being placed on the detainee too tightly, or deputies being too forceful on the detainee when they are on the way to the shower, to a deputy overstepping his/her boundaries by ripping up family photos, which can have a devastating toll on someone and affect them immensely on a psychological level.
Prop. D, supporters said, is a building block of what should be implemented across all law enforcement agencies in the U.S. to address systematic racism in everyday life, during the interaction of police officers and Black/Brown folks, and to the unfair treatment of Blacks while behind bars.
Barbara Attard, an independent consultant said, “San Francisco has worked to increase accountability of law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Department is long overdue for oversight, what happens in the department is behind closed doors; it’s important to have independent eyes examine these issues.”
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