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Sheriff-elect Mark Essick takes a wait-and-see approach to future of oversight office



The uncertain fate of a Sonoma County policy-accountability office will be a part of the discussion at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 4.

There, Jerry Threet, the current director of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO), will present his fiscal year 2017–18 annual report to the supervisors—as well as proposed new language that would modify the existing ordinance and enhance the IOLERO's working interactions with the sheriff's office.

The IOLERO was created in the aftermath of the fatal 2013 shooting of teenager Andy Lopez by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office (SCSO). Now, just three years into its rollout, the IOLERO is under fire from an SCSO that would just as soon eliminate the office altogether.

Threet is leaving his $160,000 post at the end of the year, citing health concerns. His annual report, released in September, was met with stiff pushback from the SCSO, which called for the elimination of the IOLERO in a public response to Threet's report.

The SCSO has called for the IOLERO to be replaced by an on-contract auditor who would not be a part of the county bureaucracy and could, say criminal-justice activists who contacted the Bohemian, signal a watered-down version of police accountability.

The IOLERO was created as a county office to provide for a rolling review of police investigations into claims of officer misconduct. The office is also empowered to field complaints from Sonoma County citizens, to audit investigations that spring from complaints made to the SCSO, and to provide a measure of community outreach via a citizen-led community advisory council.

Threet notes at several junctures in his report that trust and cooperation between the IOLERO and SCSO started to break down in the aftermath of the devastating 2017 wildfires, which occurred as the election battle for a new sheriff was getting rolling. Sheriff-elect Mark Essick takes office next month.

The two-person IOLERO office has a nearly $500,000 annual budget and, in its latest report, spent some time reporting, for example, on the investigation into a controversial "yard-counseling" incident at the Sonoma County Main Adult Detention Facility.

The videotaped yard-counseling interactions between corrections officers and inmates ended up costing Sonoma County $1.7 in settlement fees that sprang from a class-action lawsuit against the county and sheriff's office. When the settlement was announced earlier this year, Sheriff Rob Giordano announced that the agency had ended the practice of yard-counseling disruptive inmates.

Essick said in a recent interview with the Bohemian that the yard-counseling ban would remain under his leadership. Less clear is how he plans to address the chasm of trust that's apparently sprung up between the IOLERO and SCSO.

Giordano will represent the SCSO at the Tuesday meeting before the supervisors, four of five of whom have already voted, in closed session, in favor of replacing Threet next year with a new IOLERO top lawyer.

David Rabbitt is the lone supervisor on record opposed to the IOLERO's continuation. Giordano is also leaving his post at the end of this year, after having been named interim sheriff following the resignation of Steve Freitas.

The timing, and the alacrity of the SCSO's response to Threet's second annual report, comes as Essick is poised to take over the top-cop job in Sonoma County in January.

The response reads, in part, "Generally, the Sheriff's Office believes there is a fundamental flaw in the design of the current IOLERO office. At its core, the perceived success of IOLERO depends, at least in part, on the perceived failure or shortcomings of the Sheriff's Office. The IOLERO Director dedicated a large portion of the report on his perceived, personal and political, issues with the Sheriff's Office and the audit process."


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