Blotter

More on Racial Profiling Allegations in Lake County

From the Lake County News article by Elizabeth Larson:

Deputy’s association calls racial profiling allegations false; sheriff plans to release documents
Written by Elizabeth Larson
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
LAKE COUNTY – On Monday, the county’s sheriff’s deputy association called allegations of racism and racial profiling within their ranks untrue.

Following an emergency meeting held Monday morning, the Lake County Deputy Sheriff’s Association issued a statement in response to allegations made in the Bay Area media by Deputy Francisco Rivero and former department members Kip Ringen and Brian Lande.

“These false allegations are an insult to the hard working men and women of Lake County’s law enforcement,” said association President Gary Frace in the written statement.

On Monday Rivero, Ringen and Lande all stood by their comments.

Their allegations – that some of the agency’s deputies have made arrests and traffic stops based on race – were the focus of a television report last week. Rivero said the interviews they gave were filmed in May.

The claims were cause for alarm from fellow deputies.

“On behalf of the Lake County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, we adamantly deny the allegations made by Frank Rivero, Kip Ringen and Brian Lande that racism and racial profiling are rampant within the Lake County Sheriff’s Department,” Frace’s statement said.

“The Lake County Deputy Sheriff’s Association members are extremely competent and professional men and women who strive to serve the community each and every day,” the statement continued. “We are dedicated to working with the administration and the community to establish a safe and secure place for the residents and visitors of Lake County.”

The statement went on to insist that association members “do not condone any racism, racial profiling, or discrimination of any kind and will not tolerate any such action.”

It also noted that the group is consulting with its attorneys regarding the claims and will comment further in the near future pending an investigation.

In a separate action, Sheriff Rod Mitchell said he’s planning to respond to the allegations by releasing on Tuesday documents and a time line of events to show how his agency has dealt with the issues.

Mitchell said the sheriff’s office has investigated every incident of alleged racial profiling that’s been raised, with one still under investigation that’s based on the statements of Solano County defense attorney Nick Falloy.

Falloy claimed to have seen a deputy slap a Hispanic man on the back of the head during an arrest he witnessed while on a ride-along with his longtime friend, Lande. That incident, Mitchell alleged, wasn’t reported until 10 months later.

Rivero, who was surprised to hear of the deputy association’s statement and the emergency meeting, said he stands by his assertions, including that fellow deputies have called him racial epithets including “wetback.”

One fellow deputy also allegedly called Rivero – whose family came to the United States from Cuba when he was a child – a “Cuban drug dealer.”

Rivero said he’s concerned that if deputies will say those things to one of their own, they’ll do worse things to the Hispanic community at large.

Both Rivero and Lande said a few deputies also were known to make anti-gay remarks.

Rivero and Lande said they’ve seen Hispanics called “Joses.” Rivero said he’s seen Mexicans handcuffed to a deputy’s patrol car. Lande said a deputy specifically instructed him to profile Hispanics.

In addition, Rivero contended that the association meeting was called incorrectly, but Frace said, based on the bylaws, the board can call an emergency meeting at any time.

A regular meeting of the general membership is scheduled for Tuesday, Frace said. It’s 65 members include deputies, first line supervisors at the rank of sergeant and investigators with the Lake County District Attorney’s Office.

Frace said deputies are starting to second-guess themselves on the streets because of the allegations and the publicity they’re generating. That second-guessing, he said, could impact deputies’ safety.

Deputy Michael Sobieraj, who has been with the department eight years – first as a correctional officer and more recently as a deputy – said he’s never seen the kinds of racism alleged in his time there.

Sobieraj said they had a few days’ notice that the report was coming out, and that it was upsetting to watch.

Adding to the situation is that Rivero is challenging Sheriff Rod Mitchell in next year’s election, as Lake County News reported in September. His run for sheriff is aimed at changing the atmosphere, Rivero said.

“My concern is people need to be treated fairly and without prejudice,” Rivero said. “We wield a lot of power here.”

Concerns raised about how complaints were made

Rivero accused Frace and the association of making the Monday statement as a way of hurting his campaign for sheriff, claiming that the association’s board is pro-Mitchell. He also accused Frace of trying to talk him out of running.

Frace, a deputy of four years and president of the association for the past year, said he has no issue with Rivero seeking the sheriff’s job, and that he didn’t try to talk Rivero out of anything.

“What we have a problem with is Frank continually runs us into the ground, in his actions and words,” said Frace.

Rivero said he thinks only a “handful” – or as many as half a dozen – of the department’s deputies are part of the problem. “I never said it was everyone,” he explained, adding he also didn’t say the issues were “rampant.”

Ringen estimated that as much as a third of the deputies are somehow involved in unfair treatment.

Another concern for the deputies association, said Frace, is that Rivero never brought his reports about racism and racial profiling to them. Neither did Lande, nor did Ringen, who preceded Frace as the association president, Frace said.

Rivero concurred that, “officially,” he didn’t take his concerns to the association. He said he did take the matter to the sheriff personally and, when he couldn’t get anywhere, he went to the county’s administration and the Board of Supervisors, which resulted in an investigation.

Mitchell countered that Rivero never came to him about the allegations, but went to the board on March 27, several weeks after he was passed over for promotion in a sergeant’s test.

Lande, who Mitchell said gave a resignation letter dated March 20 before leaving for another law enforcement agency, joined Rivero in that complaint to the board.

That complaint included allegations by Falloy, who Lande had invited on a ride-along around Memorial Day of 2008, Lande said.

They were at a sobriety checkpoint when Falloy allegedly witnessed a deputy slap a Hispanic man in the back of the head during an arrest. Lande said he didn’t personally see the incident.

Mitchell questioned why Lande waited 10 months to make that complaint. “When did Falloy tell Lande, when did Lande tell anyone else?” he asked.

Lande admitted that the sheriff is right – it was many months later before he made the report. That’s because he was afraid of retaliation.

Falloy “wanted to say something immediately,” but Lande said he asked him not to. “I was still on probation and afraid of losing my job,” and had already made an internal affairs complaint against another deputy for safety concerns, Lande said.

Because of making that complaint, Lande was told he would never make the SWAT team.

Lande said he feels guilty because he didn’t speak up sooner.

Ringen, who was aware of deputies targeting Hispanics, said he didn’t report it to senior officials because he claimed everyone knew it was going on.

Mitchell agreed that Ringen never reported racial profiling during his time with the agency. “That was never something he ever mentioned.”

He questioned when Ringen became aware of the issues leading to the race-based allegations he’s making and when he decided to report them. “Those are the key questions,” he said, noting peace officers have a duty to report crimes and civil rights violations in a timely manner.

This past April 15, Ringen – who just turned 57 – retired after nearly 27 years with the sheriff’s office.

At the time of his retirement Ringen said he had been on administrative leave for just over four months.

While he said he hadn’t previously reported racist remarks, he said he did take information about the race-based harassment against Rivero to the sheriff’s administration on Dec. 4, 2008.

Shortly after taking that action, Ringen said he was placed on leave with internal affairs investigations leveled against him accusing him of calling a fellow sergeant a name and not following a direct order.

“I wasn’t going to continue to go through the humiliation of what Mitchell was putting me through,” said Ringen, explaining that he decided to retire. “The hunt was on.”

During the summer, Ringen – who had considered running for sheriff – decided instead to endorse Rivero. “I believe that Frank is truly a better candidate and I think he has a lot more to give the citizens of Lake County.”

He said that shortly afterward he received a call from a friend who was a district attorney’s investigator, telling him he could no longer come into the office to visit. “I’ve been basically cut off from law enforcement in Lake County,” Ringen said.

Sheriff: Investigations have taken place

Rivero is one of two people in the sheriff’s office who have filed complaints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as Lake County News has reported.

Everyone – including Rivero – is limited on what they can say about the EEOC investigation at this point, but Rivero stated in a previous interview with Lake County News that the issues involved lack of merit-based promotions at the sheriff’s office and mistreatment of minorities by certain deputies. He indicated that he’s willing to sign a waiver to have the information released to the public.

Both Ringen and Lande said they gave statements to the EEOC on Rivero’s behalf.

County Counsel Anita Grant told Lake County News on Monday that the report the county completed earlier this year on Rivero’s complaint was sent to the EEOC, which will decide at some point if further action is taken.

While she said the report may be disclosable at some point, it can’t be released publicly while the EEOC investigation is taking place, and she has no time estimate for completion based on the EEOC being “woefully understaffed.”

Rivero also complained to the US Department of Justice. A US Attorney’s Office spokesman could not be reached for comment late Monday. Rivero said he was told by an individual within the DOJ’s Civil Rights division that the matter was being looked into.

Mitchell said his department has a long history of responding to complaints and making sure they’re appropriately investigated.

He said he went to Rivero this past May 18 for information about his allegations, and initially was put off.

Mitchell said every issue brought to his attention was investigated, including charges that deputies were targeting Hispanics for selective enforcement at driving under the influence checkpoints. There were resolutions and the resulting discipline was appropriate, he said.

One investigation remains open, said Mitchell – that regarding what Falloy said he saw during the ride-along.

Since the television broadcast there are new allegations. Mitchell said his department is exploring claims that Ringen himself made inappropriate comments.

Since the allegations have gone public, Lande said he’s been receiving hateful e-mails making personal attacks on him. “I knew that might happen.”

Lande said all he had wanted was an investigation.

“My hope is just that this will stop, not that it’s going to turn into a shouting match,” said Lande.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at elarson@lakeconews.com . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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