By Patty Yao
Dublin, CA – On Sept. 23, 2022, Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern sent a letter to 47 Sheriff’s deputies notifying them that they are not allowed to perform “any function reserved for peace officers” including carrying a firearm and making arrests after a background audit (of January 2016 to the present) found their psychological examination evaluations to be “D. Not Suited”.
In the letter, Sheriff Ahern stated that the office had been operating under information from California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), which said that they could hire candidates who received D ratings. However, this is not the case, as California Code of Regulations Section 1995(D), POST, and County Counsel all state that any hiring candidate who receives a D rating cannot serve as a peace officer—meaning a police officer or other correctional officer—in California.
As of now, the 47 officers are relegated to office jobs but retain their pay and benefits. The letter also stated that the Sheriff’s office intends to have the deputies “return to full duty status once [they] obtain a ‘Suitable’ finding” on another psychological exam conducted by a POST certified psychologist not employed under the Sheriff’s office.
In an interview, Lieutenant Ray Kelly, the spokesperson for the ACSO, said that the audit was prompted by the arrest of former deputy Devin Williams, Jr., for the murder of a couple in their Dublin home on Sept. 7, 2022. Williams was reportedly romantically involved with the wife and believed she was unmarried. Kelly also noted that Williams had passed the psychological exams, but four other sources from the sheriff’s office say he did not. In addition, the four sources, who wished to remain anonymous, reported that “they feel the psychological exam process under Ahern has been flawed,” alleging that “he often passes his friends and family on these tests to get them hired and nixes the candidates he doesn’t like.”
Bay Area Civil Rights groups, activists, and lawyers have expressed concern over the psychological evaluations, especially since 30 of the 47 suspended deputies worked at Santa Rita Jail, which has incurred 59 in-custody deaths since 2014 and is currently involved in a federal lawsuit over the mistreatment of its incarcerated population.
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a Bay Area non-profit civil rights organization, released a statement on Sept. 26, 2022, regarding the situation. In the statement, Jose Bernal, Ella Baker Center’s organizing director, expressed disturbance at the number of active deputies working for ACSO who failed their psychological exams. Bernal states that “even more horrifying is that the Sheriff’s Office has known about this for so long and did absolutely nothing except turn a blind eye and cover up at the expense of the general public and incarcerated individuals.”
In addition, Bernal pointed out that the public “already knew the harm that had been caused by Sheriff Ahern and his office – a blood trail of in-custody deaths, disastrous handling of COVID-19 at Santa Rita Jail, and the targeted, over-policing on our Black, Brown and low-income communities. Nearly five years later and millions of county tax-payer dollars poured into ‘reforming’ the sheriff’s office and the results have only been catastrophic.”
Sheriff Ahern, who lost the June 2022 sheriff’s election, will be replaced by Yesenia Sanchez in January 2023. Sanchez has expressed criticism about certain practices under Ahern, including the way deputies have responded to mental health issues and in-custody deaths at Santa Rita Jail. She intends to better address the concerns of Alameda County residents once she is in office.
Murong (Patty) Yao is a current fourth year at UC Berkeley majoring in Political Economy and minoring in Public Policy. This is her second semester at the Vanguard at Berkeley, and she’s a writer for the prison reform desk. She’s from Allentown Pennsylvania.