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Sheriff’s Office to limit ICE cooperation at Sonoma County Jail

Interim Sheriff Rob Giordano has announced the Sonoma County Jail will limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities starting Friday. The move comes after the previously planned policy shift was delayed eight weeks, during which the surprise retirement of Sheriff Steve Freitas occurred July 31.

Under current policy, the Sheriff’s Office responds to every notification request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the date and time of an inmate’s release, even if an inmate’s detention does not result in a conviction.

Once the new policy is implemented, Sonoma County Jail officials will respond to ICE if a person has been convicted felony listed by the California Trust Act. The jail will also cooperated requests for inmates who have been convicted of Trust Act misdemeanors and 13 additional crimes within the last five years.

The 13 crimes added by Giordano include DUIs, battery and seven sex crimes relating to minors, that will count as crimes justifying a response to an ICE notification request.

Inmates will also be able to challenge the jail’s decision to respond to ICE. Giordano said his intent is not to notify ICE if a person’s only prior felony was smoking a joint in another state 15 years ago.

“We’ve been trying to get this done for months, even before Sheriff Freitas announced it,” Giordano said in an interview outlining his plans for change. “But there’s a cost for losing the leader of an organization.”

The supervisors unanimously voted Feb. 7 to support Senate Bill 54, which has also been called a “sanctuary state” bill. The bill, already passed by the California Senate and currently in the Assembly, could further limit cooperation between the Sheriff’s Office and ICE. At the same time the supervisors deliberately avoided using the word “sanctuary” in resolutions reasserting the county’s commitment to undocumented residents.

In light of these recent stances, supervisors are expected have tough questions Aug. 22 when Giordano will be interviewed by the board before it votes on whether to confirm him as sheriff for the remainder of Freitas’ term. Giordano has said he has no plans to run for the seat in the 2018 election.

The policy change, originally slated to take effect July 1, is expected to be in place four days before the supervisors’ meeting where he’ll be questioned on his views running the Sheriff’s Office.

“I’m happy with this progress,” 5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said. “But I had many concerns with the delay.”

New limits on communication with ICE are also a response to recommendations made by Jerry Threet, director of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, the county’s official Sheriff’s Office watchdog established in 2016.

In a March 30 recommendation on policies relating to immigration status, Threet advised limiting cooperation with ICE notification requests to only individuals convicted of a serious or violent felony as stated by the Trust Act.

In a May 1 letter in response to Threet, Freitas said he could not fully support the recommendation, but would limit the cooperation with ICE to those who have committed violent and serious felonies as outlined by the Trust Act, plus an additional 18 crimes.

At the time, it was unclear if the Sheriff’s Office would also adhere to the five-year time limit stated in the Trust Act.

“I do think this is really significant,” Threet said of the impending changes announced by Giordano. “It’s a signal that they’ll listen and respond to the community.”

Giordano is also expected to address and take questions from IOLERO’s Community Advisory Council Aug. 21 in a special meeting on immigration. His predecessor Freitas never addressed the council, sending subordinates to address the oversight committee on his behalf.

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct for an earlier omission.

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