FREITAS MUST GO NOW!
BY: KATHLEEN FINIGAN
KATHLEEN FINIGAN IS A MEMBER OF THE COMMUNITY ACTION COALITION
On March 24, members of the Community Action Coalition of Sonoma County (CACSCO) served a Notice of Intention to recall Sheriff Steve Freitas from office. Listen to on-site Interview HERE. Just hours later the sheriff announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018.
Nonetheless, the Community Action Coalition will persevere in its effort to remove a sheriff who has failed repeatedly to fulfill his stated mission to provide “professional, firm, fair and compassionate public safety services with integrity and respect” to our communities. Under his leadership, this Sheriff’s Office has consistently discriminated against people of color, the homeless and their encampments and the mentally ill. Excessive use of force is pervasive.
The 2013 killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by Deputy Erick Gelhaus fanned deep-seated resentments of local Latino communities, which had already endured years of racial profiling, humiliation and senseless killings by law enforcement. After the sheriff reassigned Gelhaus back to street patrol, one Latina from Santa Rosa said, “The message was clear: you are faceless, nameless, voiceless, and we don’t care about you.”
Sentiments swelled again last year when the sheriff promoted Gelhaus. “He is highly qualified and will represent the Sheriff’s Office well,” Freitas said. “If I didn’t believe that, he wouldn’t be promoted."
“The message was clear (by Sheriff Freitas): you are faceless, nameless, voiceless, and we don’t care about you.” - Santa Rosa Latina Resident
The Sheriff’s Office has been accused of the May 2015 beating of some 20 jail inmates over a period of five hours, a case that is now in federal court. Deputy Scott Thorne, since dismissed, is facing felony assault charges for the vicious beating of an unarmed man after bursting into his bedroom. Also awaiting trial is the Lopez family’s wrongful death suit against Gelhaus and the sheriff. In addition to the $2 million that Sonoma County taxpayers have already forked out for excessive force and civil rights violations cases against this Sheriff’s Office, the Board of Supervisors has already paid or committed another $2.35 million to County Counsel to hire outside attorneys in the county's bid to kill the Lopez case.
In 2016, the federally authorized group Disability Rights California found serious violations at the county jail. Mentally ill inmates were being medicated illegally against their will, health care was woefully inadequate and excessive isolation and solitary confinement were routine practice. Drinking water was unavailable to one female inmate who was observed scooping water out of a cell toilet to drink.
In February, the sheriff met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Washington, D.C., affirming his support for Sessions and the Trump administration's plan to deport two to three million Mexican immigrants this year alone. Sessions has called for the assistance of local law enforcement agencies in that effort by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
Although many local jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies throughout the county are completely refusing to participate with ICE, Freitas says that he “absolutely will cooperate” concerning individuals in the county jail. Many may be suspects but not convicts of violent crimes, and are vulnerable to direct deportation by ICE, One in their hands, ICE is not required to provide due process of legal representation and trial.
Impacted communities are now in crisis mode. Dina Lopez of Catholic Charities says that families feel “terrorized,” and frantic parents are signing powers of attorney for the guardianship of their children in case they’re deported. Many children are afraid of going to school only to come home to find their parents have disappeared. At recent Latino community meetings, “the fear, the dread, the despair was heavy … several parents were crying,” notes Jerry Threet, director of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach.