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Pressure Is Mounting to Audit Alameda County Sheriff’s Department

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An Oakland City Council vote does not carry weight to immediately fix all that is wrong with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and Santa Rita Jail, but it does move the conversation forward. Councilmembers unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday aimed at applying pressure on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to fund an independent audit on general department and jail operations.

The audit Oakland City Council, civil rights activists and legislators like Senator Nancy Skinner are pushing for would be multifaceted, addressing both financial and procedural concerns. On the finance end, it has become a nagging question as to why the sheriff’s office budget continues to grow even as the jail population steadily declines.

The procedural audit would focus on a litany of complaints that journalist Scott Morris publicly exposed in a series of articles. His story titled, “The Most Dangerous Place in Alameda County,” brought wide public attention to the jail’s abnormally high death rate among inmates, rated fourth highest in the state.

Protest action held at Alameda County Jail Santa Rita in October 2018. Photo courtesy of Oakland North

Aside from at least 33 deaths in the past five years, the jail is accused of poor medical treatment and abuse. In a recent article, Morris says:

“The sheriff’s office has acknowledged a woman gave birth in a jail cell and four deputies are facing criminal charges for facilitating assaults by inmates using urine or feces, commonly known as ‘gassing.'”

Despite the allegations, Sheriff Gregory Ahern says he welcomes an audit and claims he runs “the best big jail in the nation,” a point Barbara Doss challenges after her son Dujuan Armstrong died in custody last June. Doss was given conflicting information about  circumstances surrounding Armstrong’s death, being told that he overdosed on drugs and also being informed that he had a confrontation with deputies that required he be restrained. As Morris reported, Doss has not yet been given the autopsy report she’s asked for.

In a Tuesday rally at Oakland City Hall, Councilwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas spoke about the deaths and elaborated on the case of the woman who gave birth alone in a jail cell, accusing deputies of ignoring her cries for help. Among activist organizations that joined the rally calling for an independent audit was Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a group which has continually fought for accountability and transparency at Santa Rita Jail for several years now.

Alameda BOS President Richard Valle told KTVU that a “smaller” audit is already underway and that supervisors wouldn’t be likely to open a larger audit until after the first one is complete. However, that answer is far from satisfactory to those gathered Tuesday and is not one they are likely to accept.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.