by Natalie Gee and Tracy Gallardo
In November 2020, San Francisco voters passed Proposition D: Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board Charter Amendment with 66.9% in favor. The Sheriff’s Oversight Charter Amendment, spearheaded by Supervisor Shamann Walton, was part of a national movement for justice reform and an effort to end decades of discrimination and unfair treatment rampant within the Sheriff’s Department.
In 2015, the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi began investigating stories from incarcerated individuals who were forced into gladiator fights against each other by sheriff deputies. After being sworn into office in 2019, Supervisor Walton received calls and complaints from incarcerated people and their families about the abuse occurring in the San Francisco County jails. Unfortunately, there was no process at the time to address the complaints.
For over a year, Supervisor Shamann Walton and his team met with various stakeholders, including members of the Civilian Oversight Commission of Los Angeles County, experts on law enforcement oversight such as Barbara Attard, former District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Public Defender Mano Raju to discuss sheriff oversight. They studied other programs launched in different counties, visited jail sites, conducted community meetings and, as a result, prepared a charter amendment for the November 2020 election to amend the Charter of the City and County of San Francisco to create the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board.
The Board of Supervisors has four appointments, and the mayor has three appointments to the new board. In April 2021, the first members were seated and by December 2021, the board was fully appointed. The inaugural meeting was held in August 2022. Members of the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board underwent required training and orientation on custodial law enforcement, constitutional policing, and policies and procedures of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board was established to advise the sheriff and the Board of Supervisors regarding Sheriff’s Department operations, develop policy recommendations, including a use-of-force policy and comprehensive review process for all use-of-force and critical incidents, investigate the death of any individual in the custody of the Sheriff’s Department, review and investigate any complaints of non-criminal misconduct by employees and contractors of the Sheriff’s Department regarding in-custody deaths, and to appoint an inspector general to oversee the investigative process and evaluate the work of the Sheriff’s Department as well as conduct community outreach to hear public input regarding operations and jail conditions.
On Wednesday, after three years since the passage of Proposition D and after a year-long nationwide search, the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board will finally appoint an inspector general, Terry Wiley, a former attorney with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and a Bay Area native. The Office of the Inspector General is independent of the Sheriff’s Department. The responsibilities of the office include receiving and reviewing complaints against the Sheriff’s Department, sheriff employees and contractors. It will also make recommendations for disciplinary actions and develop and recommend a use-of-force policy and comprehensive internal review process for all use-of-force and critical incidents.
“I am happy that we have finally selected someone for the inspector general role,” said Supervisor Walton. “Passing this charter amendment was important to me as it created a process to address the complaints from incarcerated people and their families against the injustices happening to people in the sheriff’s custody.
“We are in a critical time recovering from the pandemic, but we continue to see the same inequities present in the Sheriff’s Department overseeing our city jails. The demand for justice reform and the demand for oversight and transparency is what voters supported, and the establishment of this office is crucial to bring forth the reforms needed in San Francisco. I look forward to seeing the changes this board and office will bring.”
Lawsuits against the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department have cost the city millions in settlements over the last few years, excluding the city staff time and resources spent on these cases. The efforts in establishing a Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board and appointing an inspector general will finally provide public transparency when these incidences of misconduct, mistreatment and abuse are investigated.
Contact Natalie Gee at firstname.lastname@example.org and Tracy Gallardo at email@example.com.