By Kathleen Finigan, Yes on Measure P
— In a grim effort to defeat Measure P, which will strengthen the Sonoma County Independent Office of Law Enforcement and Outreach (IOLERO), Sheriff Mark Essick and the Deputy Sheriff’s Association have loudly trumpeted their commitment to transparency. However, observers say that their versions of transparency are as clear as mud and well-proven by words and actions that have absolutely no basis in fact.
The Sheriff’s statements and the DSA’s “No on P” campaign website, TransparentSonoma.com, lean heavily on scare tactics and blatant lies. For example, yard signs and the website page entitled “Just the Facts,” implore “Don’t defund our deputies” and further claim that “Measure P defunds critical community policing and training programs.” The Committee for Transparent Justice is listed as paying for yard signs and Sonoma for Transparent Justice is fiscally responsible for the website. Notably, financial disclosure statements have yet to be filed as required by the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Other false claims are that the Sheriff’s constitutional duties will be adversely impacted, the rescue helicopter Henry 1 will be taken out of commission, response to emergencies will be slower, public safety programs will be cut and that the measure will “reduce protection of citizens from robberies, burglaries, assaults, sex crimes, and disasters.”
The truth belying all of those claims is that while all other County department budgets were cut by 10% this year, the Sheriff’s budget was actually increased by $9.5 million to $194 million compared with $184.5 million last year.
In addition, the County Auditor’s Fiscal Impact Statement confirms that IOLERO has been and will continue to be “100 percent funded by a County General Fund contribution,” at a sum equivalent to 1% of the Sheriff’s Budget. Not a single penny is taken away from the Sheriff’s budget.
Concurrently, support for ‘Yes on P” (yesonpsonomacounty.com) has mushroomed into hundreds of endorsements among elected leaders, a broad swath of organizations, community leaders and the public at large.
According to Senator Mike McGuire, who endorses the measure, “Transparency is the cornerstone of accountability in our government and in law enforcement. Measure P brings a common sense approach to oversight and will allow for independent review and analysis on any serious misconduct and use of force allegation without impacting the Sheriff’s Office budget.”
Joining McGuire in endorsing the measure are Congressmen Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman, Supervisors Gorin, Gore, Zane and Hopkins and Supervisor Elect Coursey, Santa Rosa Vice Mayor Victoria Fleming and Council member Chris Rogers, IOLERO Founding Director Jerry Threet, ACLU, Sonoma County Democrats and Latino Democrats, Community Action Partnership, NAACP, SIEU, North Bay Jobs for Justice, AFL-CIO North Bay Labor Council, and the Press Democrat.
The need for greater accountability and transparency is especially urgent given the rising number of killings by deputies since Mark Essick took office in 2019. That toll currently sits at nine, which researchers say is a record high. The Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights reported recently that “Since the year 2000, there have been at least 91 community members who have been killed in an incident involving local law enforcement, averaging almost five deaths per year.”
The Press Democrat confirmed that last year, Sonoma County paid out $6.6 million for excessive force and wrongful death settlements involving deputy misconduct plus another $2.5 million in attorney fees. In addition, the Sheriff’s liability insurance premiums jumped up 46% to $5.9 million a year, bringing the total for just one year to a whopping $15 million in taxpayer dollars.
Recently, a new Federal case against the Sheriff was filed by La’Marcus McDonald, 34, a Black man sleeping in his car who was dragged out by deputies and slammed face-first into the ground. McDonald lost consciousness, suffered a concussion, three front teeth were knocked out and he sustained multiple lacerations of the face and arms. The Sheriff says that McDonald didn’t sustain any serious injuries and that no wrong was done but refuses to release the deputies’ body camera information.
Reed Kathrein, attorney for McDonald, said that the unnecessary deadly force used on McDonald reflects a “history of similar instances,” adding that “It has never been more clear that what’s happening in Sonoma must stop. It is our hope that along with the community’s voices and existing efforts we will push for true reform.”
— Kathleen Finigan, Yes on Measure P, Committee to Support an Effective IOLERO (FPPC# 14227)