Last Updated on October 31, 2023 by BVN
On October 11, the families of Mark Spratt, Ulysses Munoz Ayala and Justin Kail, all housed at Riverside County’s Cois Byrd Detention Center in Riverside County at the time of their demise, joined a list of other grieving families who also lost loved ones in the county’s jail facilities in 2022, the deadliest year for people in the county’s custody in recent years.
As the community prepares to pay what may possibly result in millions of dollars in settlement costs, members of the community continue crying out for answers about Sheriff Chad Bianco’s administration of the department even as CA Attorney General Rob Bonta continues his Civil Rights patterns and practices investigation into the Sheriff’s Department.
Complaints against Bianco and deputies in his department cover a wide range of areas ranging from the excessive use of force to failure to protect the lives of those entrusted to their care.
Bianco has claimed again and again his department is not to blame and both his deputies and corrections officers operate according to established policies and procedures–except, of course, those who do not. He further claims it is all a political witch hunt.
Recently, however, it has been hard for Bianco to hold firmly to this argument especially when three deputies/corrections officers were arrested in a very short period of time in recent months. In September, three corrections deputies were arrested for disparate actions. One was arrested for extorting several female inmates and having sex with at least one of them; another, for possessing and consuming drugs; and a third for allegedly possessing over 100 pounds of fentanyl.
All three arrests are concerning but the fentanyl arrest certainly warrants attention especially when you consider that fentanyl deaths are occuring in jail facilities all over the country and Riverside is no exception.
Bianco likes to tell a story of how people are getting themselves arrested just so they can sneak these drugs into county jail facilities. And of course, this may well be true. But if it is true for those every day people who are arrested, what might we speculate about those entrusted with the oversight of individuals in the county’s care… like, for example, a corrections officer in Riverside County caught with more than 100 pounds of fentanyl. Was he trafficking? Was he secreting drugs into the county jail facilities and selling them?
In the wake of these arrests, and as might be expected, the department congratulates itself on catching the criminals inside their corps but offers nothing about how they became part of the team in the first place. I can’t wait to see what comes of the investigation.
In the meantime, the Prison Policy Institute (PPI) reports there are many communities nationwide, where jails act as reception centers for those experiencing poverty, mental health crises, or substance use disorders. I think many of us agree with this assessment and that it is truly a structural and institutional issue that needs to be reconciled at the national, state and local levels.
In the meantime, we must look to the leadership of local sheriff departments to manage local jail facilities in a way that protects the lives of those entrusted to their care regardless of their suspected afflictions, especially since most of those who die in custody are yet to be tried and convicted.
As such, the residents of Riverside County must continue to ask themselves if Chad Bianco is the right man for this job? Do we trust his leadership? Do we trust his judgment? Is he failing in his due diligence and administration of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department? As others have noted, it is past time for independent oversight.
If we don’t believe he is qualified, we must call for oversight. It is within our power to place it on the ballot and vote for it. If we fail to act, at what point does it cease to be Bianco’s responsibility and begin to fall on the shoulders of a community who elected him TWICE, and are now failing to use the tools available to them to create the desired change.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.