By Patty Yao
Oakland, CA — On Oct. 5, 2022, community advocates and families who have been impacted by violence at the hands of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office held a protest outside the Sheriff’s office in Oakland.
According to the Ella Baker Center—a Bay Area human rights organization where the Vanguard at Berkeley conducted an exclusive interview—their demands call for transparency and accountability from the sheriff’s office, including:
- Conduct and make public an independent investigation into this incident of 47 deputies being unlawfully hired after failing their psychological exams—including the role any and all officers played in any arrests, uses of force, deaths, and serious bodily injuries since 2016
- These 47 deputies not be rehired
- All criminal charges against individuals whose cases involved these 47 deputies be dropped immediately
- Sheriff Greg Ahern and Sheriff-Elect Yesenia Sanchez apologize to the general public and the currently and formerly incarcerated people, family members, and anyone else put in danger by these 47 deputies
The attendees included advocates from prison reform and social justice organizations including the Ella Baker Center, Anti-Police Terror Project, Urban Peace Movement, and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, as well as Barbara Doss, the mother of Dujuan Armstrong, who died while in custody at Santa Rita Jail in 2018.
Jose Bernal, the Organizing Director of the Ella Baker Center, who spoke at the protest, describes the responses of the families who were impacted by violence from the sheriff’s office due to the fact that 47 deputies were unlawfully hired after failing their psychological exams.
He said that “this triggers a lot for them. I can’t imagine the pain and trauma that they’ve experienced already with the horrific acts of state violence that the sheriff’s office has inflicted on their families, but come to find out that some of the deputies who were involved in the death of their loved ones could potentially be one of the 47 deputies who wasn’t even supposed to be there to begin with.”
Bernal has also highlighted the lack of transparency and accountability from the sheriff’s office. He holds that the lack of transparency “has been the MO for the sheriff’s office for a very long time. They don’t disclose a lot of information. A lot of things are guarded in secrecy. This, for example, in terms of what has come to light, has been happening at least since 2016. It could go further back than that. We don’t know who the 47 deputies were, we don’t know why they were hired, who authorized it, or who knew about it. We don’t know if the claims around the sheriff using nepotism hold any validity.”
In regard to the lack of accountability, Bernal notes that “the sheriff’s office continues to be involved in controversy after controversy, make national headlines, disregard community concerns, disregard people who are currently incarcerated and their families, and lack any form of accountability.”
So far, the sheriff’s office has already reinstated 12 of the deputies who were suspended to full duty and has announced their intention to reinstate the rest by this week. The 12 who were reinstated retook their psychological exams but have not yet received their scores.
Meanwhile, Yesenia Sanchez, the Sheriff-elect set to replace Sheriff Ahern in January of 2023, demanded that the sheriff’s office apologize to the 47 “unsuitable” deputies. She states in an interview with KTVU that “it is a shame the 47 deputies directly affected by this discovery have been cast in a negative light,” and that “the ACSO owes them an apology. The ACSO owes the public an apology.”
For Bernal, this situation is the first test of how responsive Sanchez will be to accountability and transparency, and so far, according to Bernal, “it’s not great.” He states, “the reality is that this is terrible for the community, this is terrible for all the currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, all of the families who have lost loved ones inside of Santa Rita who don’t have any answers or knowledge right now. There are no apologies to the public, but even more importantly no effort at transparency and no effort at correcting this.”
In terms of what needs to change, Bernal comments, “I think this is sometimes looked at by the media as the issue being with the 47 deputies, and that’s part of the issue, but not the whole issue. The issue is systemic-wide. What’s important is setting systems in place that are going to limit the size, power, and reach of the sheriff’s office, so that no matter who’s in office, they don’t have those mechanisms in place that allow them to basically invent their own rules and continue harming our community.”
He lists actions that governing agencies of the county can take such as having an independent medical examiner’s office so that the sheriff’s office doesn’t investigate their own in-custody deaths and removing the sheriff from being the director of emergency management, a position not held by the Sheriff in many other counties. He also states that the county can “invest in the community in order to decrease jail populations. That takes away the ability to harm people inside the jail, and significantly reduces the number of in-custody deaths.”
As of Oct. 6, 2022, the state agency that oversees the hiring and training of law enforcement officers in California announced that it will be auditing every police department in the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco in response to the hiring of 47 “not suitable” deputies at the ACSO.
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.