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A meeting between Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas and new Attorney General Jeff Sessions set off alarms in Sonoma County on Wednesday, prompting several surprised local officials to question him about the discussion.

Freitas said he joined several California sheriffs attending a national conference Tuesday to visit Sessions and discuss a variety of issues, including asset seizure, marijuana and immigration, as well as ways federal and local law enforcement can work together.

He said they expressed concerns about Senate Bill 54, the proposed California legislation that would further limit state law enforcement officers’ cooperation with federal immigration officials.

Freitas opposes the bill because it doesn’t allow exceptions for serious and violent felons.

“I don’t think that’s safe for our community,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I don’t think our citizens want felons in our community.”

Sessions’ reputation as a fierce opponent of immigration stands in contrast to policies adopted this week by Sonoma County supervisors and the Santa Rosa City Council to protect undocumented immigrants.

Freitas, who is a registered voter with no party preference, said he supported President Donald Trump’s nomination of Sessions as the nation’s top law enforcement official.

Freitas said that does not put him at odds with local support for undocumented immigrants.

He described the meeting ­— held one day before the Republican senator from Alabama was confirmed by the U.S. Senate — as a fact-finding session to gauge the federal government’s positions on key law enforcement issues.

“He reassured us, his commitment to us, is (that) local law enforcement is really the expert on individual communities and local crime issues,” Freitas said. “He said he wants to be our partner with us and help us keep our citizens safe.”

News of Freitas’ meeting with Sessions unsettled Sonoma County amid dueling Santa Rosa and Sonoma County meetings this week packed with immigrants and their advocates urging the county’s elected leaders to demonstrate support for undocumented people.

The meeting caused a firestorm on social media, leading several Sonoma County supervisors to ask Freitas why he met with Sessions.

While Supervisor Susan Gorin said she was disappointed by the meeting, she acknowledged the sheriff is an independently elected official.

“We represent a community that is filled with fear, intimidation and anxiety about how all of the executive orders will play out,” Gorin said.

“We provide health and human services for so many people, and the board just took pretty affirmative action (Tuesday) to explore even more significant actions moving forward in the future to protect the folks living and working in our community. So I think his reaction is under-appreciating the significance of the folks living in our community.”

Gorin said she would consider asking Freitas to appear before the Board of Supervisors to publicly discuss the conversation with Sessions.

But Supervisor Shirlee Zane, chairwoman of the board, also spoke to Freitas by phone Wednesday and was not troubled by his meeting with Sessions.

Zane said she understood Freitas’ concerns that Senate Bill 54 could unfairly constrain deputies’ ability to deport violent criminals.

Zane also said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is part of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Justice that Sessions will lead as attorney general.

What do Californians buy?

Products sold at California dispensaries, April-June 2017

$375 million on cannabis flowers

$170 million on concentrates

$82 million on edibles

$34 million in pre-rolled joints

$20 million on other products like devices and apparel

Source: BDS Analytics

Best selling cannabis strains at California dispensaries, April-June 2017

1. Blue Dream

2. Golden Goat

3. Durban Poison

4. Gorilla Glue

5. Green Crack

6. Flo

7. Mob Boss

8. Lemon Skunk

9. Gorilla Glue #4

10. Sour Diesel

Source: BDS Analytics


Find more in-depth cannabis news, culture and politics at EmeraldReport.com, authoritative marijuana coverage from the PD.

California sheriffs interviewed by Washington media after the Sessions meeting were quoted as saying none supported the concept of a sanctuary city or county.

San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon raised concerns about the inability of California jails to keep inmates beyond release dates with immigration holds, a once-routine practice found unconstitutional.

Freitas, who was not quoted in media reports about the meeting, declined to comment on what his peers said.

He did say that cooperating with other law enforcement agencies — including ICE — benefits public safety. He does not support a sanctuary policy that bars any collaboration.

“It would be irresponsible for me as sheriff to not come get a seat at the table and see if there will be changes and how we can work together to make our communities safe,” Freitas said. “That’s why I came to this conference.”

Jerry Threet, director of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, said some of the comments made by other California sheriffs concerned him and made him question how willing Freitas will be to change or limit ICE notifications.

Threet said he will ask Freitas further questions next week when they are scheduled to meet.

A county-appointed group working with Threet voted Monday to urge Freitas to stop telling immigration officers when undocumented inmates are to be released, except for cases involving serious and violent felony crimes.

Currently, the Sheriff’s Office policy is to respond to any request for release date information from ICE.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said she received a flood of complaints, mostly through social media.

She, too, called Freitas and heard his concerns about how Senate Bill 54 would hamper his agency’s ability to work with federal immigration investigations.

Hopkins believes it may be appropriate for local law enforcement to help ICE locate violent offenders, but blanket cooperation on federal civil immigration matters could cause local law enforcement to “lose the trust of the community.”

When news of the meeting was shared Tuesday, “blood started to boil,” said Rebecca Hachmyer, a member of Petaluma’s Together We Will Stand Indivisible and Sonoma County Indivisible, groups formed to oppose many of Trump’s actions.

Sessions served as Alabama’s attorney general and as a U.S. attorney before being elected to office in 1996.

Since he was elected, he has opposed nearly every immigration bill proposed in the Senate that included pathways to citizenship, but he has supported some guest worker programs.

The conference was held by the Major County Sheriffs’ and Major Cities Chiefs associations. Freitas is on the board of directors of the California State Sheriff’s Association.

The organizations have publicly backed Sessions’ nomination.

Staff Writer J.D. Morris contributed to this report. Information from the Washington Examiner and Washington Post was used in this story. You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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