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Ordinance Would Curb Sheriff's Review Panel

January 23, 1991|MARK PLATTE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Diego County review panel being created to monitor potential misconduct in the Sheriff's Department should not include members who are not registered to vote, should not be used to investigate complaints against the marshal's office and should keep all citizen complaints confidential, the county's chief administrator has recommended.

Proposed changes to a draft county ordinance, which also exhorts members of the board "not to obstruct the investigative and prosecutorial functions" of the sheriff, district attorney or grand jury, are to be voted on by the County Board of Supervisors next Tuesday. Copies of the changes were distributed last week.

The review board was authorized by supervisors last month to look into allegations of excessive force, illegal search and seizure, criminal conduct, false arrest, false reporting and other potential problems.

Voters gave supervisors the authority to establish the panel last November after years of complaints and sizable jury awards from those who claimed they were abused by sheriff's deputies.

But the review panel is in the midst of a fight with representatives of the Deputy Sheriffs Assn., the collective bargaining unit that represents most of the department's 1,349 deputies and officers.

On Tuesday, the president of the organization delivered to county attorneys the particulars of a new lawsuit that seeks to have the court permanently stop the county from establishing the board.

DSA attorneys already have filed a complaint in Superior Court alleging that the county did not "meet and confer" with DSA representatives before it placed the measure establishing the board--called Proposition A--on the November ballot.

The latest lawsuit, by DSA President Randy Dibb, is directed at the county of San Diego, the Board of Supervisors, Chief Administrative Office Norman Hickey and James Smyth, who is monitoring the project for Hickey's office.

It alleges that the review board will hinder the investigative authority of the sheriff and district attorney and that the money being spent to operate the board, which Dibb claims will be $450,000 a year, is an illegal expenditure.

Deputy County Counsel Valerie Tehan said Tuesday that the DSA is doing everything it can to try and keep the review board from being created.

"We are months and months away from the board being in place and issuing our first subpoena," Tehan said. "This is just another tactic. They'll do whatever they think is necessary to slow this thing down."

In revising the draft ordinance for the review board, chief administrator Hickey solicited the opinion of 330 people and community organizations, including law enforcement agencies, civic organizations, court officials and others. Hickey said he received 33 responses.

Hickey concluded that the review panel should stay at 11 members, rather than the 15 that some civic groups had suggested as a means of getting greater community representation.

The marshal's office, which some had suggested be included in the panel's review, should be excluded because it is composed technically of court employees who do not work for the county, Hickey said.

Although the review board is expected to conduct public meetings and is authorized to recommend disciplinary actions against deputies, the board should keep all personnel records and citizen complaints confidential, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance also says that, although the review board "shall receive complete and prompt cooperation from all offices and employees of the county," it should "not obstruct the investigative and prosecutorial functions of other public officers."

Hickey said the cost of operating the review board will be $70,000 to $111,000 more than expected because the county wants to conduct a nationwide search for an executive director and expects to spend more for telephones and other equipment.

Mike Crowley, an attorney who works for the American Civil Liberties Union, said he is happy that the revised ordinance would require full cooperation from those under investigation, but worried that it excludes those who are not registered to vote and keeps personnel records confidential.

Further, Crowley said, he is puzzled by the suggestion that the review board may harm other investigations.

"Investigations by the Sheriff's Department and the district attorney (of those claiming to be abused) have been nonexistent for years," he said. "I don't see how the citizens review board could hinder them when they don't investigate anyway."

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