Shared from the 5/22/2019 San Francisco Chronicle eEdition

Oakland calls for audit of county sheriff’s office

Sarah Ravani / The Chronicle

Protesters rally outside Oakland City Hall to call for audit of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

The Oakland City Council passed a resolution Tuesday calling for an independent audit of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office budget after a number of inmate deaths at the county jail, complaints by pregnant inmates and revelations that deputies had illegally recorded juveniles.

The resolution, introduced by Councilwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas, calls on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to allocate funding for an independent performance and financial audit of the sheriff’s budget. The audit should be a “collaborative audit process” involving Oakland residents, community groups and Alameda County officials.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office’s current one-year budget is about $435 million.

The vote comes after The Chronicle revealed that an Alameda County Sheriff’s Office sergeant illegally recorded a juvenile detainee’s discussions with an attorney. The resolution criticized the department after a number of lawsuits were filed by pregnant inmates for mistreatment and sleep deprivation. In response, a federal judge ordered fewer nighttime interruptions and longer “lights-out” hours last April for the inmates. According to the Ella Baker Human Rights Center, 33 Alameda County inmates have died in custody in the past five years. Last March, the family of a man who died by hanging himself while locked up at an Alameda County jail filed a lawsuit alleging staff there left him alone and without appropriate mental health care even though he was a known suicide risk.

An independent audit could reveal potential cost-saving efforts that could be redirected toward education, housing and public safety, according to the resolution.

More than 30 people gathered outside City Hall before the vote in support of the resolution, holding signs that read, “All Eyes On The Sheriff” and spoke in favor of an audit against Sheriff Greg Ahern.

“We already know that the Sheriff’s Office has violated the rights of many folks and swept it under the rug,” said Kaila Mathis, a program associate with the Urban Peace Movement. “If they are claiming that they are protecting our rights and our safety, this shouldn’t be happening. We demand and we are pushing for a thorough audit.”

Sgt. Ray Kelly from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office called the vote a political move and encouraged council members to meet with the sheriff.

“Not one time did the Oakland City Council ever come to the Sheriff’s Office and ask to learn more about the agency, to ask to learn more about our budget, to learn about what we do,” Kelly said. “The sheriff dedicates a tremendous amount of time and resources to (Oakland). The sheriff would be more than happy to meet with the City Council about any concerns.”

Kelly added that the Sheriff’s Office “welcomes any audit.”

Oakland joins a growing movement of criticism against the department. In 2018, the Berkeley City Council passed a similar resolution calling for an independent audit on the Sheriff’s Office. And in February, Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, sent a letter to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors echoing concerns.

“These concerns range from allegations of abuse to an expanding ACSO budget,” Skinner wrote. “Alameda County residents deserve full transparency and accountability, and I fully support community members in their request for an independent financial and performance audit of the AC-SO. I respectfully urge you to do so as well.”

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors did not respond to a request for comment.

Sarah Ravani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @SarRavani

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