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Seven people join citizen advisory group that helps monitor Sonoma County law enforcement

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The citizen advisory council tasked with being the bridge between the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and the community it serves inducted seven new members Monday, ushering in a flurry of new faces to the 3-year old committee.

Karlene Navarro, the county’s independent law enforcement watchdog who oversees the advisory council, said she was mindful about the group representing ethnic and geographic diversity, while selecting the new members during a roughly six-month application period.

Applicants who came from niche communities within the county, whether it be through community-service work or the fields they worked in, also stood out.

“It’s a community advisory council so it’s important that we have fresh perspectives,” Navarro said.

Navarro depends on the citizen council as a sounding board to help her evaluate and gather community input about law enforcement tactics and techniques such as valid use of force.

The new members were joined by two female veterans of the Community Advisory Council, who reapplied and were reappointed to their seats after their terms expired at the end of 2019, along with four other people who served on the volunteer board.

Both women, Alma Roman Diaz and Maria Pacheco, who have served since 2017 and 2016, respectively, agreed they wanted to continue the work they’d started during previous terms. Pacheco noted her goals to provide Sonoma County Latinos with more information about their rights when contacted by law enforcement, as well continue the council’s examination of the Sheriff’s Office’s use-of-force policy.

“On the law enforcement side, there’s got to be some changes in tactics, especially in relation to use of force,” Pacheco said.

Monday evening the advisory council met at the Guerneville Regional Library. Sonoma County Sheriff Lt. Shawn Murphy, who serves as the agency’s liaison to the citizen group, attended the council gathering.

The meeting included a presentation by Sonoma County Counsel Bruce Golstein about requirements of the Brown Act, part of California government code that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies, and a brainstorming session about the council’s goals.

One council member asked the group to remain respectful of members of the public who attend meetings and express opinions, even if they counter those of the council or Navarro.

“People might come into these meetings with a deep, emotional mindset,” said Keith Rhinehart, a new council member from the Sonoma Valley. “At the same time though, I feel it should be, short of violating someone’s First Amendment rights, I feel it should still be spoken or acted out in a way that’s mutually respectful.”

Other new members of the council include retired state park ranger and president of Sonoma County Pride JD Donovan, criminal defense attorney Evan Zelig and Dora Barrera, a program specialist for Sonoma County’s general services department. Lorez Bailey, director of the after-school program Chop’s Teen Club and a community member of The Press Democrat’s editorial board, also was appointed to the citizen advisory council.

Jim Duffy, a former member of the advisory council, suggested new members study work done by the council that served before them, as well as reports from the CALLE Task Force, a community group that led to the creation of both Navarro’s office and the citizen advisory group.

The task force was assembled in the wake of the 2013 fatal shooting of a Santa Rosa teen, Andy Lopez, by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy who mistook the airsoft BB gun he carried for a real firearm.

“You’re not starting from scratch,” Duffy said. “Please consider all the work that came before you.”

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

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