S. E. Williams |
Late last week we learned members of the community are pushing for accountability of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
Three of the area’s nonprofit organizations, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Starting Over Inc., and Riverside All of Us or None, coalesced to request in writing, that California Attorney General Rob Bonta launch an investigation into the department. These groups were supported in their action by more than 20 other local organizations that signed the request in concurrence.
The letter highlighted how the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, “has demonstrated a pattern of racist policing practices, rampant patrol and jail deaths, and a refusal to comply with recommendations from oversight agencies and a court-mandated consent decree.”
The list of egregious actions or inactions (depending on the issue) range from a blatant failure to respond to civil grand jury recommendations; to a failure to comply with mandates of a consent decree; to the requirement for an emergency motion to protect inmates from the impacts of COVID-19; to concerns over the increase in in-custody deaths, as well as ongoing concerns related to the police use of force, among other considerations.
The correspondence also focused a laser on the failures of the one agency available for communities to hold Sheriffs Departments in California accountable, the Board of State and Community Corrections or BSCC. They noted how, in addition to the agency’s refusal to conduct jail inspections during the first ten months of the COVID-19 outbreak and despite community complaints about the conditions in local jail facilities, the inmates were left vulnerable until Sheriff Chad Bianco was compelled to implement mitigation measures.
The complaint further stressed how the BSCC consists largely of former law enforcement and that this was not the first time the board has proven impotent despite having been called to account by the media in addition to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, to no avail.
It’s been clear since Sheriff Bianco took office in 2019, he is unfit for the job and appears to lack the skills or willingness to lead the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in the direction needed for the community and the department to work in partnership.
As reported by Black Voice News in December 2020, Bianco fancies himself a Constitutional Sheriff. In other words, the ultimate authority in the county—he believes no one tells him what to do or how to do it.
When you believe, like Bianco, that you possess all the power and all the authority, you freely disregard a civil grand jury report, you ignore the requirements of a federal consent decree, you overlook the suffering of those in your jails, and you turn a blind eye or rush to justify the questionable use of force by your deputies. You rule with impunity because you see yourself exempt from accountability.
And that is not all. You feel you can say anything, regardless of how ignorant it may sound because—you are the sheriff, you wear the badge.
So, you find yourself saying things during the peak of the pandemic last year like, “[You won’t be] blackmailed, bullied or used as muscle against Riverside County residents in the enforcement of the governor’s orders.”
Or, regarding the vaccine, “I make sure my immune system is firing on all cylinders. I will never take the vaccine and have zero worry of the virus. If you are not healthy, you should probably quarantine.”
And more than a year and a half into COVID=19 illnesses, suffering and death, you recently proclaimed, “I will not enforce the vaccine mandate on Sheriff’s Department employees. Stressing further, “The government has no ability and no authority to mandate your health choices. As your sheriff, I have an obligation to guard your liberty and freedom.”
Wow, I guess he picks and chooses whose liberty and freedom he guards, certainly not the inmates in his jails; certainly not those injured or killed by his deputies on the streets; certainly not the lives of Riverside County residents his unvaccinated officers interact with daily—who, because they remain unvaccinated, may unknowingly spread COVID-19 to others possibly causing serious illness or death.
It is past time for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to be accountable to the community it serves. The action of the ACLU, Starting Over Inc., Riverside, All of Us or None and the 20 plus groups that joined this action to hold Bianco and his band accountable, should be applauded.
Now, it is up to Attorney General Bonta to act.
In the meantime, I will remind you all that regardless of what happens with this complaint, Bianco is up for reelection in 2022. Once again, we will have an opportunity to choose. We do not have to settle for leadership in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department that does not serve the community’s greater good. We do not have to settle for the least capable candidate just because he is well funded.
Money can buy a lot of things, maybe even elections at times, but it cannot buy character, credibility, fairness, competence, compassion or effective leadership capability for those who do not have them.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.
Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Stephannie has received awards for her investigative reporting and for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Header photo: California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Riverside Sheriff Chad Bianco