LOCAL RESIDENTS DEMAND MORE ACCOUNTABILITY OF SHERIFFs

By Albert Gregory

Local residents and activists at the Andy Lopez mural at 555 Sebastopol Rd. in Santa Rosa listened and responded to the reading of names the Police Brutality Coalition of Sonoma County say the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department killed. (Photo by Albert Gregory)

Activists and local area residents gathered at the Andy Lopez mural Sunday in Roseland to show support for Measure P and demand more accountability and transparency from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department at the “Say Their Names!” protest. 

The protest in Santa Rosa consisted of a call and response of names, randomly selected from a list of 108, who died at the hands of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s department since 1997, according to the Police Brutality Coalition Sonoma County, a local activism group dedicated to ending law enforcement brutality and complicit power structures.

“We want the community to recognize all the reasons why Measure P needs to be passed here. We need greater transparency; we need greater accountability. The sheriff doesn’t want to do it; no law enforcement wants to do this, but we have to say ‘enough.’ We’ve had too much tragedy,” said Kathleen Finigan, a founding member of the Police Brutality Coalition who organized Sunday’s protest. 

Measure P would alter a 2015 ordinance that formed the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO), which was created following the 2013 killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez. Finigan and other supporters of Measure P believe it will finally give IOLERO the necessary power to hold the sheriffs responsible. 

On Oct. 22, 2013, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot and killed Lopez, who was holding an airsoft gun, in Santa Rosa. The Sonoma County District Attorney’s office did not file charges against Gelhaus. 

According to policescorecard.org, which uses data from 2016-18 on policing-related issues to analyze how departments impact their communities and how officers are held accountable, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department earned an F grade and used more lethal force than 60% of other departments within California. 

“We want Sonoma County in general, the voters to vote yes on [Measure] P and to take into consideration the importance of voting yes, on [Measure] P. But also, for the folks who benefit from normalizing police violence, right? We want them to know that we will not stand for the normalization of these violent attacks on our community,” said Karym Sanchez, a lead organizer at the North Bay Organizing Project, which is an organization that unites leadership and grassroots power for social justice.

Supporters of the measure includes Sonoma County Supervisors James Gore, Lynda Hopkins, David Rabbitt, Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin, Santa Rosa City Councilmember Chris Rogers, the ACLU of Northern California and the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, among others. 

The measure is opposed by Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick and the Sonoma County Deputy Sherriff’s Association. 

“I can’t comment on Measure P because it’s on the ballot. So, we have to stay neutral,” said Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Juan Valencia. “[Essick] is very transparent. He provides all the facts regarding investigations and stuff like that.”

Contributions to the No on Measure P campaign have come from the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and KS Leasing, a subsidiary of local celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s business Knuckle Sandwich LLC. Neither responded to initial requests for comment. 

The Sonoma County Deputy Sherriff’s Association also did not respond to initial requests for comment. 

Many local residents believe these assaults are racially charged and according to policescorecard.org, Latinos are almost twice as likely to have deadly force used on them in Sonoma County. 

“I think that for the longest time, this was an issue that was easy to ignore, because it mostly impacts marginalized communities. We are slowly and more forcefully showing folks that we’re no longer going to remain in the margins,” Sanchez said. 

The Police Brutality Coalition said after Measure P its next fight will be to ensure that those with mental illnesses are handled properly by the sheriffs. 

Frauka Kozar, who is in the middle of a lawsuit that states Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office officials did not protect her mentally ill son Nino Bosco who allegedly killed himself in their custody, shared her son’s story at Sunday’s protest. 

“[We] are advocating for change, understanding and compassion for mental health, for culture, for humans; it’s human rights,” said Kozar’s daughter Stephanie Bosco. 

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