A community panel reviewing Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office policies voted Monday to send a clear message to Sheriff Steve Freitas: Stop cooperating with federal immigration agents.
Driven to counteract President Donald Trump’s push for more deportations, the group advising the county’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach took a strong stance against how the jail aids federal civil immigration investigations.
It asked Freitas to direct jail staff to stop complying with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement requests to be notified when an inmate slated for possible deportation will be released. It’s a routine practice that replaced the now-defunct policy of holding inmates beyond release dates so an ICE agent could pick them up.
“For our sheriff to stand up and say, ‘We understand your fear in this community. We will protect and serve everyone’ — to make that statement, I think it’s imperative,” said Elizabeth Cozine, a member of the advisory group who drafted the recommendation.
Cozine’s comments were met with applause by many of the 50 people who filled a county hearing room Monday night at the permit and resource department in Santa Rosa.
The vote was the first major action taken by the newly formed Community Advisory Council, a 10-member group that held its first meeting in December. The council was created to advise the county’s Director of Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, Jerry Threet.
“This is fundamentally a human and a moral issue,” Threet said at Monday’s meeting. “When I began meeting with immigrant parents right after the executive order was issued, I felt their intense fear, sadness, depression ... This is significantly affecting families in this county.”
He heads the county’s first ever civilian oversight program looking at how the Sheriff’s Office conducts internal investigations into excessive force complaints. Threet also reviews other types of internal investigations and provides input on policies and procedures.
He said the current policy is a detriment to public safety because he’s heard repeatedly from undocumented immigrants in Sonoma County who are afraid to call 911 or cooperate with local law enforcement out of fear they will be deported.
Threet said he will report the results at Tuesday’s Sonoma County supervisors meeting and also communicate with Freitas. Then Threet will develop a formal recommendation with research and stories about Sonoma County people affected by the policy to present to Freitas.
Threet and the advisory council have no authority over how Freitas runs the department, and the recommendations are nonbinding.
Lt. Jim Naugle said it’s too soon to tell whether Freitas might consider changing the policy.
Naugle attended the meeting to show Freitas and the department “want to know what the community has to say. We’re listening,” he said.
Trump’s vow to withhold federal funding for communities not cooperating with his orders won’t impact the way the Sheriff’s Office forms its policy, Naugle said.
“We do receive federal funds but not enough to force our hands one way or the other,” he said.
The Sonoma County Jail provides several avenues for immigration officials to access inmates or information about inmates. Agents can request an in-person interview with an inmate at the jail, view documents in an inmate’s detention file and request notification about an inmate’s release date and time.
The group recommends the sheriff stop allowing ICE officers to review detention files — which can include information from foreign consulates — and stop alerting ICE when an inmate slated for deportation will be released.
The Sheriff’s Office currently responds to all requests from ICE about an inmate’s release date.
About a dozen members of the public spoke Monday, all but one urging the group to send a strong message to Freitas about the ways the current policy affects families.
“I am dealing with people who come to register with our organization and I see how fearful they are,” said Magdelena Cardenas, an organizer with the Graton Day Labor Center, speaking in Spanish with an interpreter translating.
Susan Lamont, a Santa Rosa resident and former president of the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County, encouraged the group to view their actions as part of a larger movement in California to resist what she called Trump’s punitive policies.
“The more we can say it, from the state level to the county level to commissions and councils, the more inspiration we are to the rest of the country that’s not as lucky as we are,” Lamont said. “We should be a model and do it as much as we can.”
Just one speaker voiced concerns about the possibility that less cooperation with ICE would decrease public safety. Michael Hilber, a resident of unincorporated Santa Rosa, said he was concerned to learn a man Santa Rosa police arrested last week on suspicion of selling methamphetamine and heroin had been previously deported.
Another speaker, Santa Rosa criminal defense attorney Heather Wise, argued federal immigration officers should be held accountable for dangerous persons slated for deportation, and not local law enforcement.
The advisory council also voted to urge county supervisors to support State Senate Bill 54 that was introduced in December, which would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies, school police and security departments “from using resources to investigate, detain, detect, report or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.”
The advisory council meets the first Monday of each month. Learn more about the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach here.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.