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Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick slams former auditor over ‘racist’ Facebook post

A six-week-old Facebook post that questions whether a Black man is more loyal to the law enforcement profession than to his race has become the latest flashpoint in Sonoma County’s ongoing struggles with racial politics.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick on Monday condemned one of his chief critics over what he said was a racist Facebook attack by a white man on Assistant Sheriff Eddie Engram, who is Black.

Jerry Threet, the county’s former law enforcement auditor, published the Sept. 30 post after Essick announced he would not run for reelection and endorsed Assistant Sheriff Eddie Engram, a 19-year veteran within the office who currently oversees the agency’s corrections division.

Threet claims Essick was leveraging Engram’s “BIPOC status to keep the office within the control of the deputies’ union.” BIPOC is an acronym meaning Black, Indigenous and People of Color.

The post continues, “DON’T FALL FOR THE RUSE. NOT ALL SKIN FOLK ARE KINFOLK.”

In a Facebook response published on the Sonoma County Sheriff’s page Monday, Essick called on Threet, who also formally served as the chair of the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, to issue a public apology for his “racially biased comments.”

“Essentially, (Threet’s post says) ‘Don’t be fooled, don’t fall for the ruse.’ That because (Engram is) Black, he doesn’t respect Black people,” Essick said in an interview Monday, in which he said his response to Threet’s post was not politically motivated.

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Threet further elaborated on a written response to Essick, which Threet published on his Facebook page Monday.

In the written reply, Threet argued that his experience as the county’s law enforcement watchdog, a role he held for three years, led him to conclude that Engram “will not be a leader who considers how the policies and practices of the Sheriff's Office, a key player in a county criminal justice system characterized by White Supremacist tendencies, continue to harm the county's BIPOC community.”

In a followup interview, Threet said he did not intend to minimize Engram’s experience as a Black man in Sonoma County or his professional qualifications as a law enforcement official. Instead he was hoping to provide important information to people who may consider voting for Engram at a time when interest in diverse leadership is high in Sonoma County.

Threet also accused the Sheriff of using the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Facebook page, which he called a government resource, to assist a candidate in a campaign, an act that violates Government Code 54964.

“There’s no question this is political” Threet said.

The dust-up comes just two weeks after a top county official resigned, saying that as a Black woman she could no longer tolerate the racial slights and microaggressions she experienced in her role.

Her resignation came the day after the man hired to become Sonoma County’s new health director, who is also Black, withdrew citing similar concerns.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Engram said he did not take issue with Threet’s criticism of his work within the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

He did fault Threet for making references about his race, however, saying he read Threet’s comment about “kinfolk” as meaning that just because he was Black, it didn’t mean he was “one of us.”

“Though my life, and through a lot of Black people’s lives, we’ve had instances where people who are not Black try to judge, or gauge or set Blackness based on who or what a Black person should be,” Engram said. “Especially in my career, especially people who are not Black, put criticism on Black people in law enforcement as if we’re no longer Black.”

The public feud over Threet’s Facebook post served as the latest chapter of a tug-of-war between the former watchdog and Essick’s office.

Threet, who was the founding director of the county’s law enforcement oversight office, has been a vocal critic of the Sheriff’s Office, as well as other law enforcement agencies in Sonoma County, since his departure as the county’s police auditor in early 2019. He was also one of the organizers of a successful 2020 county measure that sought to expand the funding and powers of his former office.

In defense of his post, Threet pointed to an episode in the fall of 2018, when Engram restricted his office’s access to a Sheriff’s Office database that is needed to conduct law enforcement audits. At the time, Engram was the agency’s liaison to Threet’s office, and tensions between the two offices was at a high point, Threet said.

He also said Engram appears to have authored a “misleading and dishonest” Sheriff's Office response to a set of recommendations Threet made to improve the agency’s internal affairs investigations.

Those experiences, paired with conversations Threet’s had with multiple community members who say they’ve been targeted by local deputies because of their race, led him to oppose Engram’s candidacy for Sheriff.

He added his criticisms did not fall into the same category as the microaggressions others in the county, including former Health Services Director Barbie Robinson and outgoing Economic Development Board Director Sheba Person-Whitley, have faced.

“I think Eddie Engram’s primary allegiance, as I see it, is to the Sheriff’s Office union and culture as it exists currently,” Threet said. “And that culture is tied to white supremacy in the county.”

Engram said he did not make the decision to lock out Threet from the database. Both he and Threet agreed it was related to Threet’s hiring of an employee who had not completed a background check process despite that being a requirement of sharing the sensitive information with Threet’s office.

Threet noted that the occasional presence of a temp worker who had not completed a background check not been an issue for the Sheriff’s Office before the lockout incident, which Threet described a period of high contentiousness between his office and the law enforcement agency.

Engram also added that the Sheriff Office’s reply to Threet’s recommendations was written by several individuals, not him alone.

Engram said Threet has never had a personal conversation with him about whether he would be a change agent if he was elected sheriff, though the issue of diverse hiring was an important one for him, Engram said.

The compassionate response by the officers who responded to his home in East Palo Alto as a child, where his family was the victim of theft and home burglaries, among others, was part of what drove him to seek law enforcement as a career, he added.

“Mr. Threet has made these allegations, or has attempted to portray me in a certain way when he’s never even had a conversation with me,” Engram said.

Essick said he found out about the post Wednesday afternoon after staff with his social media team brought it to his attention. After consulting with Engram about the post, and thinking about his role as the Sheriff’s Office leader, Essick decided to issue a public statement to “call it out,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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