Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Humboldt County supervisors approve jail release transportation talks


October 22, 2014
Eureka Times-Standard
By Will Houston

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a set of responses to the Humboldt County Grand Jury's recent report, including initiating talks with a local transit agency to address the issue of late night and early morning jail releases.
Late night jail releases was one of seven topics investigated by the grand jury in its 2013-2014 annual report that the county is required to respond to by law.
The subject of jail releases shot to the forefront of community concern this year after the brutal murder of St. Bernard Catholic Church priest Rev. Eric Freed in the rectory on New Year's Day. The suspect, Gary Lee Bullock, had been released from the county jail a few blocks away shortly after midnight on Jan. 1. His trial is scheduled for early next year.
Local and state law enforcement and correctional officials later held a community meeting at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka to hear the community's input and to explain the current policies in place.
The grand jury is a volunteer civil institution consisting of nearly 20 county citizens that operates under the direction of the Humboldt County Superior Court for the role of monitoring the performance of local governments.
As a way to address the issue of late night releases, the jury recommended that the jail not allow inmates to be released between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., return any money confiscated at the time of booking back to the inmate at the time of release in the form of cash, and work to provide transportation using the Humboldt Transit Authority to qualified inmates who were arrested more than 25 miles away from the jail.
Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said the board has limited jurisdiction when it comes to jail operations.
"Having no authority over the sheriff, we can't force him to do anything with these recommendations," he said, adding that the most the board can do is change the sheriff's office budget.
Serving on the Humboldt Transit Authority Board of Directors, 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said there has already been some talk about setting up an agreement with the county, but there were funding concerns and other issues.
"Regardless, HTA does not provide services for the hours that we are concerned about," she said. "That is an issue in and of itself."
As to the issue of funding the transit agreement, the board's approved response states that revenue from the proposed public safety sales tax — known as Measure Z — on the Nov. 4 ballot could be used, if identified as a priority.
Sheriff Mike Downey was not able to attend the meeting due to other matters, 1st District Supervisor and board Chairman Rex Bohn said, but the comments Downey submitted were approved by the board on Tuesday.
In his response, Downey said the recommendation to stop releases between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. was "not warranted or reasonable," but said the jail has made other changes.
"An additional policy, that was recently implemented, requires that each detainee be screened and objective signs of sobriety documented prior to release," he wrote. "The form also contains a disclaimer and box to check in regards to the offer of staying in the correctional facility until 6 a.m. The detainee can opt to stay or be released from custody and must acknowledge his/her decision by signing the document, prior to release."
One member of the public commented on the topic, saying the county should take responsibility for the jail "if the sheriff is unwilling to do something with these people."
Bohn said a large percentage of the 14,000 people released from the jail each year are low-level offenders such as those arrested for being drunk in public.
"Part of his problem is do we let them all out," he said. "I think he's working on that. It's a pretty touchy situation, and I think he's doing a pretty good job with the jail."
Downey also addressed disorderly conduct arrests in his response.
"Humboldt County Sheriff's Office correctional facility policy allows for an individual to be held, under the aforementioned conditions, for up to four hours or until they exhibit their ability to be released, being able to care for themselves," he wrote. "Upon complying with policy and lawful requirements, the sheriff no longer has legal means or authority to detain or keep in custody those booked under these conditions."

Monday, October 20, 2014

Humboldt County supervisors eye late night jail rides


October 18, 2014
Eureka Times-Standard
By Will Houston

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will consider on Tuesday suggestions from July's grand jury report regarding late night and early morning jail releases.
"Humboldt County Correctional Facility policy currently allows releases to wait until morning in a lobby, but many releases choose to leave the jail in the middle of the night," the report states. "The people of Humboldt County would be better served if Humboldt County Correctional Facility stopped releasing inmates between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m."
The report also recommends that the jail return any money confiscated at the time of booking back to the inmate at the time of release in the form of cash. A third recommendation currently before the board is for the jail and the Board of Supervisors to enter into an agreement with the Humboldt Transit Authority "to provide tickets for out of town inmates at the time of release to return them to the place they were arrested," according to a staff report.
In the draft response to be considered Tuesday by the supervisors, county Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes said the recommendation would be implemented when the proper resources are available.
"The grand jury's recommendation to contract with Humboldt Transit Authority (HTA) requires additional financial resources and may be an option if the County's sales tax measure, Measure Z, passes in the November 4, 2014 election, and the community identifies this as a priority," Smith-Hanes' response states. "However, HTA is limited by its operational schedule, which is primarily daytime."
Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said the response is a "good first step" to addressing a "complicated and serious issue."
"We should not let the fact that it's complicated stop us from trying to address it," she said. "I know that Phillip Smith-Hanes made a small reference to Measure Z funding. There may be an ability to use some of that funding to address that, and I think there might be a bit of support from the community for that."
Concern for the jail releases came after three deaths associated with the jail releases last year, one being the New Year's Day murder of a Eureka priest by alleged culprit Gary Lee Bullock, a Redway man released from the jail hours before the incident occurred.
First District Supervisor and board Chairman Rex Bohn said Sheriff Mike Downey and the jail have made "great strides" in addressing the problem by letting inmates stay in the jail lobby if they wish and by implementing discharge screenings and surveys for each inmate.
"We release between 13,000 to 14,000 people out of the jail each year," Bohn said. "They have a right to be released after their time has been served."
As for the report's recommendation to not release inmates between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., Downey wrote in his response, "The recommendation will not be implemented because it is not warranted or reasonable."
The recommendation to give cash back to released inmates is also "partially implemented," according to Downey's response.
"In the case of a short term detainee, the funds brought into the facility are counted in front of the detainee and then sealed in a plastic bag," the response states. "The sealed bag, containing the funds, is then placed in the detainees' property bag and returned to the subject upon release for their use."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

[San Joaquin County] School board tiff over cell phone use


October 18, 2014
Manteca Bulletin
By Rose Albano Risso

A member of the Manteca Unified School District Board of Trustees is considering filing a complaint to the San Joaquin County Grand Jury over “possible” Brown Act violations involving Trustee Sam Fant.
The reason for the complaint concerns Fant’s reported use of his cell phone during board meetings. Trustee Nancy Teicheira said during board comments at the Oct. 6 meeting that she was “investigating possible Brown Act violations, and I do believe when the community has concerns it is our job to at least check them out.”
On Thursday, she said she was ready to move ahead and do the filing.
In her board comment, she explained that her investigation was being prompted by complaints brought to her attention by members of the community who reported seeing Fant using his cell phone during board meetings.
“It is my job to pass on the complaint. It is up to the district to review and bring back to the board the findings,” she further stated during her closing statement.
“I do believe when the community has concerns, it is our job to at least check them out, no matter how unpleasant it is, and I will continue to do the job our constituents want us to do. And with that I thank our service men and women for making that possible. It is with their sacrifices that we are able to speak freely, and for that I am grateful. This nation was built on rules and regulations and the public expects us to follow them. That is why they fight. And that is why it is always important to thank our veterans,” she added in the usual way she closes all board meetings, a verbal salute to all veterans.
Her actions apparently ruffled some feathers during the closed session that preceded the public meeting of the board, made evident by her opening statements in her closing comment: “Tonight, I was accused of attacking fellow board members for actions that have been done. But we were elected to represent the community, and when they have complained to us it is our duty to report the incidents. So, it is not that I am picking on fellow board members; it’s that the community has a concern.”
Teicheira, who is guaranteed another four-year term since no one is challenging her in the November elections, did not mention any names involving what had transpired during closed session. She also did not disclose during the telephone interview on Thursday the identities of the people who complained to her about Fant’s use of his cell phone during board meetings.
• • •
Turmoil behind closed doors
However, the Manteca Bulletin has learned from various sources that an ugly verbal altercation took place between Teicheira and Fant over the latter’s use of his cell phone during the closed-session meeting.
Fant reportedly got mad and yelled at Teicheira, using an expletive, when she asked board president Don Scholl if they are supposed to have their cell phones out during the meeting. Fant reportedly yelled, “I’m tired of this s—t!” and added that Teicheira needed to “grow up” and to stop picking on people.
 Fant’s four-letter word apparently shocked one board member who reacted to Fant’s outburst by turning to him saying, “What did you say?”
That scene ended reportedly with Scholl telling Fant that he needed to put his cell phone away.
“The rule is, we’re not supposed to have our phone out because we could come under Brown Act violations. Who knows who he’s on the phone with? If you have a rule, you follow the rule,” said Teicheira, commenting on the complaints brought to her attention by the concerned individuals.
• • •
Sam Fant responds; board president Scholl comments
Fant admitted that he does have his cell phone out during open board meetings but that he puts it on vibrate. “We all have cell phones. Sometimes you pick up your phone but you don’t make a phone call. To my knowledge, I haven’t seen any board member use it to make a phone call or anything,” he said.
“In reference to what took place in closed session, I can’t discuss that,” he explained. However, he commented about “a board member on a witch hunt” which is causing “internal turmoil.” He did not name names either.
He admitted to going online during the last board meeting but that he used not his smart phone but the district-issued tablet which is available to all board members during meetings. At that meeting, he went online to clarify that the minimum wage increase in California was going to take effect not in 2015 as it appeared in the board agenda report but in 2016, he explained.
Board President Don Scholl said he talked to Fant about his cell phone use after the concern was brought to his attention. Scholl said Fant assured him that he has not been making any outside communications with his smart phone.
Board policy No. 9012 states that, “as all communications during a public Board meeting are subject to the California Public Records Act, Board members will not use electronic communication devices during Board meetings to communicate either internally or externally.” 
Scholl said he is trying to monitor cell phone use during meetings, but added, “I can’t see everything.”
His role as board president is “to make sure I monitor that” and to address those concerns while abiding by the board policies and procedures.
“We have rules for a reason. That’s what we have to go by. The public expects us to do that and we have to live up to their expectations,” Scholl said.
Complaints filed with the Grand Jury are held confidential. Any citizen may file a complaint. The Grand Jury acts on complaints that deal with a county department, any city in the county, all school districts and “special purpose or taxing districts in the county.” Additionally, filing rules state that complaints should be submitted “after all attempts to correct a situation have been explored, and without success.”