Two starkly differing images of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department were presented Monday night as the department sought accreditation from a national law enforcement association.
One image, provided mainly by a string of city and county officials who work with the department, was of a highly professional, ethical, responsive organization.
The other picture, put forth by three critics of the department, was of a poorly managed unit whose leader is soft on organized crime and whose internal affairs division tolerates unnecessary and brutal force against innocent citizens.
Monday night's public hearing concluded the first day of a weeklong evaluation of the department by a five-member team of professionals from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
Sheriff "John Duffy leads a large, well-organized, well-trained department of law enforcement officers," San Diego County Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller said in comments echoed by the testimony of about half a dozen other government officials.
Eugene Yee, a vice president of Cox Cable, credited the department with helping to arrest and prosecute "cable pirates" who illegally tapped into the company's signals. Yee, a former member of the Del Mar Fair Board, said the department also provided professional and efficient police services for the annual summer fair.
But Duffy's department was harshly criticized by three speakers at the 90-minute hearing held in the Board of Supervisors' chambers at the County Administration Center, 1600 Pacific Highway.
Jim Butler, a Vista resident and retired Catholic priest, said he was assaulted by a sheriff's deputy in front of his home a year ago and then beaten at the County Jail in Vista.
Butler said the incident began when he suggested that a deputy responding to a traffic accident move his squad car to keep from causing a second accident.
Butler said he was "tackled by a sheriff in front of my home, kicked, kneed and a stranglehold used on my neck, and forced into a sheriff's car."
"I was taken to the County Jail in Vista where I was introduced to the jailers as a 'cop beater.' I was thrown into the rubber room, where I was told to put my hands against the wall," Butler said. "My feet were kicked out from under me and I landed on my stomach. My arm was twisted up behind my back, and when I refused to give my name to a deputy . . . my arm was then pushed up to such an extreme that my shoulder popped out of its socket. So, in fear of my life, I gave my name."
Butler said he was tried and acquitted on charges of assaulting an officer. But he said a complaint he filed against the department was rejected for lack of evidence.
"I am not against police officers; I thoroughly believe in them," Butler said. "But I certainly believe that things need to be looked into in the Sheriff's Department."
Michael Aguirre, a local attorney who has long dogged the sheriff, repeated for the commission his assertion that Duffy and the department do too little to investigate organized crime activity in the county.
Aguirre alleged that the department's organized crime intelligence unit has an unclear function, vague goals and objectives, and inadequate policies for investigating organized crime in San Diego.
The department's management, particularly in the evidence and property section, was assailed by Charlotte Donoso, whose daughter works in the department but was reluctant to testify because she feared reprisals from her supervisors.
Donoso said the sheriff's evidence and property warehouses are filled beyond capacity, poorly laid out and form health and safety hazards to the department's workers.