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Marin County supervisors approve formation of watchdogs for sheriff's office

PIX Now 08:07

SAN RAFAEL (CBS SF/BCN) – After previously rejecting the idea twice, the Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously greenlit the formation of entities to provide independent oversight of the county Sheriff's Office Tuesday, after a civil grand jury report recommended doing so back in June.  

The county civil grand jury submitted a report entitled "Sheriff Oversight: The Time is Now," which called for an independent body to be formed primarily to address issues between the Sheriff's Office and the residents of Marin City. 

"The title of the report got it right," said Supervisor Damon Connolly at the meeting. "The time is now." 

Connolly said it was time to foster "trust, equity, accountability and strength in partnership in the community" between law enforcement and residents.  

The report and its recommendations were compiled in the wake of Assembly Bill 1185, which passed in the fall of 2020 and allows counties to create citizens' oversight boards. The civil grand jury pointed out that the job has previously fallen to the Marin County Board of Supervisors -- though in some counties the sheriff answers to no one. Sheriffs are elected but do not report to any county official. 

The board supports not only a citizens' oversight board of the Sheriff's Office but also appointing an Inspector General to do so, the idea being that two independent oversight bodies are better than one. 

AB 1185 was passed after a shooting in Sacramento in 2017. Inspector General Rick Braziel, a former Sacramento police chief, was sharply critical of the shooting, in which an unarmed Black man with mental health challenges was shot in his back six times and killed as he was running from deputies. 

After Braziel's report was made public, the Sacramento County sheriff barred him from access to any records or files in the department. Had a second civilian oversight board with subpoena powers been available, the sheriff would have had less power to block investigations into his department.  

In a staff report presented to the Board of Supervisors, the county agreed with five findings of the civil grand jury and disagreed with four, whole or partially. Overall, the county is encouraging the supervisors to create an oversight board with subpoena powers in the next fiscal year. On Tuesday, it was decided that a more fully fleshed out plan would be presented to the board by December. 

The relationship between the Sheriff's Office and Black residents of Marin City has not been a good one, the civil grand jury report said. Residents call their town a "training ground" for new deputies and claim that they are overpoliced as a result. Excessive stops, arrests, citations and warnings are routine, Black residents told the jury.  

About 35% of Marin City's residents are either Black or multiracial, according to 2019 numbers cited in the report. Marin City is also unincorporated, meaning that the county sheriff is responsible for law enforcement there. 

Two cases are outlined in the report that have especially strained the relationship. One occurred in November 2019 when an early morning raid took place in Marin City, with armored vehicles and "dozens" of heavily armed officers in tactical gear. 

The Sheriff's Office was looking for suspects in a shooting that happened in Orinda on Halloween, but school officials in Sausalito and Mill Valley told the jury that children arrived at school "traumatized" by the raid. Counselors had to be employed to help the students.  

The Sheriff's Office said that the actions were mostly carried out by the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office, but the jury found that the Marin County sheriff could have done much more to mitigate the impact. 

A second case occurred when a "Trump Caravan" rolled into Marin City on Nov. 1, 2020. A vehicle convoy out of Santa Rosa made its way down through the North Bay, arriving in Marin City's Gateway Shopping Center. 

Residents said they were met with racial epithets and had eggs thrown at them. The civil grand jury found that some voters felt intimidated to use a voting dropbox in the vicinity. Further, the county registrar of voters reported that it received calls about possible voter intimidation, which it turned over to the sheriff and the California Secretary of State.    

Public comment during Tuesday's meeting was mostly supportive of the creation of both a citizens' commission and hiring of an Inspector General, with resident Mary Morgan calling the report "thoughtful and thorough." 

Resident Clayton Smith disagreed, finding the civil grand jury's report "biased" against the Sheriff's Office and he worried that it would promote harassment against law enforcement. Smith wondered who would make up the citizens' board, asking if it would be "ax-grinding busybodies habitually drawn to this sort of thing." 

He also praised the deputies' handling of the search for the Orinda suspects and the Trump caravan. He accused the jury of "milking the countywide antipathy to all things Trump." 

Spearheading the move to hire an Inspector General and create the oversight board will be Marin County's equity director Jamillah Jordan, who will begin with a "robust" community outreach program with the help of the county Human Rights Commission. Her goal is to bring the findings back to the board in early December, she said.

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