Sonoma County Sheriff Promotes Deputy Who Shot Andy Lopez


The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has promoted the deputy who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez just outside Santa Rosa to sergeant with an accompanying pay increase, KQED has learned.

The promotion came in May, nearly three years after Lopez’s death in 2013. That case shook residents and county government alike, sparked massive protests and student walkouts and galvanized the local Latino community.

The shooting prompted investigations by local and federal authorities.

Sheriff Steve Freitas ultimately approved the promotion, which Gelhaus applied for, according to sheriff’s office Sgt. Spencer Crum. In his new role, Gelhaus will typically oversee eight to 10 deputies per shift. His pay increased 10 percent, from $49.19 to $55 per hour.

Gelhaus was paid more than $134,000 in 2015, including overtime, according to state salary records on Transparent California.

“The Sheriff is committed to following the law, rules and policy by promoting Sergeant Gelhaus,” Crum wrote in response to KQED. “He didn’t treat him any differently than the rest of the deputies who tested for the position. The sheriff knows there are some people who are upset by his promotion but he is convinced that the vast majority of the public wants a Sheriff who follows the rules. Providing opportunities for his members is not only a moral duty, it is also a legal and human right.”

Toy Gun Mistaken for AK-47 Rifle

Lopez was walking to a friend’s house near his home on Moorland Avenue on Oct 22, 2013. Gelhaus was on patrol with deputy Michael Schemmel, who was his trainee, when Gelhaus mistakenly identified the replica gun Lopez was carrying under his arm for a real AK-47 rifle.

He yelled to Schemmel something to the effect of “do you see that” and called for backup, according to the county’s district attorneyreport on the incident.

Gelhaus got out of the car, which was parked 30 to 60 feet from Lopez and ordered him to drop the gun at least once, according to the report. As Lopez turned around towards the deputies while still holding the replica gun, Gelhaus began to fire. Lopez was shot seven times, including in the chest, hips, buttocks and arms. Lopez died at the scene.

An autopsy later revealed Lopez had traces of marijuana in his system.

Gelhaus told investigators with the Santa Rosa Police Department that he feared for his life.

Investigations Clear Gelhaus

At the time, Gelhaus had been a Sonoma County deputy for 23 years and had worked in the gang enforcement unit. He was an experienced firearms instructor and a U.S. Army veteran. A month before Lopez’s death, Gelhaus had received firearms training on AK-47s. He knew that rounds fired by an AK-47 could penetrate the body armor he and Schemmel were wearing.

The Sonoma County district attorney determined criminal charges were not warranted because, given Gelhaus’s training and experience, “he believed he was faced with a ‘do-or-die’ dilemma.” The U.S. Department of Justice also cleared Gelhaus of civil rights violations after their investigation.

Lopez’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Gelhaus and Sonoma County in 2014. Sonoma County appealed a judge’s preliminary ruling, and the case is now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Nearly three years after Lopez’s death, the case remains an open wound for many Latinos in the area, particularly young people.

“He was a good friend, and for him to just go like that, it’s not OK,” said Christian Hernandez Reyes, 15, who was born and raised in Santa Rosa. “I mean, he was still a little kid. He was 13. There was no reason to shoot him out of nowhere.”

Hernandez Reyes, who met Lopez through school, said Gelhaus should not be patrolling the streets.

“He could do that to another person, to another minor, where it’s going to be the same all over again,” he said.

Gelhaus has not been exonerated in the court of public opinion, and many local Latinos fear and distrust him, said Caroline Bañuelos, chair of a county task force that provided recommendations to improve community-police relations after Lopez’s death.

Bañuelos and a majority of task force members asked Sheriff Freitas to place Gelhaus in a desk job instead of returning him to patrol, she said. Gelhaus’s promotion, said Bañuelos, sends an unfortunate message for residents who feel Lopez was killed needlessly.

“That someone can kill a member of our community and there will be no repercussions or accountability, and on top of that they can be promoted, that’s a really negative message,” said Bañuelos, a Sonoma County resident for over 30 years.

Deputy Sheriff’s Association Backs Promotion

Deputy Mike Vail, president of the Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff’s Association characterized Gelhaus as a “rock-solid deputy” who deserves the promotion.

“We are proud of him,” Vail said. “He has a great reputation within our office for doing a good job.”

Vail added that Lopez’s death was a tragedy for everyone involved, including Gelhaus.

“I can’t even imagine what Erick must have gone through over the last few years dealing with what has happened,” Vail said. “The public scrutiny, the scrutiny by the office, his own personal conflicts with what has happened — it’s just terrible.”

Vail said his association fully backs Gelhaus’s actions the day he shot Lopez, and he acted within the scope of law.

“I don’t think anybody would have responded any differently based on their training experience,” he said.

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Sonoma County DA eases disputed body cam policy

Sonoma County DA eases disputed body cam policy

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Sonoma County D.A. clamps down on bodycam video access


Sonoma County District Attorney clamps down on body cam footage, riling defense lawyers
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | July 13, 2016, 6:49PM

Defense attorneys and First Amendment activists are assailing a move by Sonoma County prosecutors to prevent the disclosure of police body camera recordings to the general public, saying it hampers accountability and transparency at a time of increased scrutiny of officer-involved incidents.

The District Attorney’s Office is now requiring criminal defense lawyers to sign an agreement before receiving body-and dash-cam recordings, promising, among other things, not to upload the videos to the internet.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch said the stipulations are meant to protect the privacy of uninvolved third parties including victims and children, whose images are sometimes recorded by the cameras.

Also, she said they will ensure the integrity of the legal process, which could be threatened by the release of “so much information through the body camera process.”

“We’re all trying to catch up to technology,” Ravitch said. “But we’re not trying to hide anything.”

But critics are crying foul, saying the blanket requirement is an attack on due-process rights and runs counter to public support for body cameras in the first place.

Catherine Wagner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said protective orders should be sought on a case-by-case basis and granted only in rare instances such as an interview with a child sex-assault victim.

Otherwise, the records should remain open, especially if they involve allegations of police wrongdoing or use of force, Wagner said.

She called Ravitch’s policy “troubling.”

“It seems to me the effort from this particular district attorney to prevent the footage from getting out is another stumbling block to realizing the public’s interest in having body cameras at all,” Wagner said.

Some defense lawyers are refusing to sign, forcing judges to intervene and delaying the outcome of cases. Legal challenges could rise to higher courts.

Meanwhile, members of the county’s private defense bar have requested a meeting next week with Ravitch to air their concerns.

“It’s just one more mechanism to keep everything hush-hush,” said Santa Rosa attorney Ryan Wilber, who is seeking a police recording in a client’s drunken-driving case.

Another defense attorney, Walter Rubenstein, said prosecutors are allowing private lawyers to view videos without a signed order. But they must do it in the District Attorney’s Office and cannot take a copy, he said.

Rubenstein said in light of recent police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, it “seems like the wrong time to do that.”

“People are calling for more transparency,” said Rubenstein, a board member of the Sonoma County Bar Association representing the criminal law section. “We should have a thoughtful, in-depth discussion about this.”

The prosecutor’s body cam agreement is part of an emerging area of the law and appears modeled on policies in Napa County and by the San Diego City Attorney’s Office. It is not clear how many other jurisdictions have followed suit.

In Sonoma County, it comes amid the release of several controversial police videos posted on the internet. In one, defense attorneys posted video of correctional deputies in the county jail shooting a man with Taser weapons in a brutality case that settled for $1.25 million. More recently, the Sheriff’s Office posted video of the arrest of a Petaluma teenager, Gabbi Lemos, that is the subject of ongoing criminal and civil litigation.

Under the law, prosecutors are required to turn over all evidence supporting criminal charges, including videos. Defense attorneys are barred from publicly disseminating information identifying victims or witnesses in things like police reports, 911 tapes or lab results. They also may not publish information subject to a judge’s protective order.

Ravitch said body camera videos should be treated the same way to ensure victims’ privacy rights.

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Videos show confrontation between Petaluma teen, sheriff’s deputy
“We’re not preventing defendants from using this information in presenting their case,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Scott Jamar said. “The only thing we’re asking is that the statutory privacy rights of the victims and witnesses be protected and not disclosed for an unauthorized purpose, unrelated to the criminal prosecution.”

The stipulation contains seven provisions, including a ban on downloading videos onto any website. Also, it says the recording can’t be used in any other case, such as a civil lawsuit, and requires videos be returned to prosecutors within 90 days of a case’s resolution.

It is valid only after it is signed by both sides and approved by a judge.

Ravitch said it was rolled out earlier this year after being vetted by the court and Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi, who initially lent partial support to protect her clients’ privacy. Pozzi has since instructed her attorneys not to agree to certain provisions, including the return portion.

“Upon further research I feel she can’t do a protective order across the board on every case,” Pozzi said.

She said she would continue to discuss the issue with Ravitch to seek refinements.

The private defense bar was not consulted, Ravitch said.

The policy does not prevent defendants from seeking copies of videos directly from police agencies, she said.

“I think social media is being used more and more to litigate cases rather than presenting cases in a courtroom,” Ravitch said. “I’m trying to protect the privacy interests of those who should not be dragged into the public arena.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.


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Four join lawsuit claiming beatings at Sonoma County jail


Four more men have joined a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming they were beaten last year while inmates of the Sonoma County jail.

Their addition brings to six the number of men seeking damages from the county, Sheriff Steve Freitas and about a dozen correctional deputies allegedly involved in the May 28 incident.

Like the others, the former inmates of a jail high-security wing claim they were punched, kicked and thrown to the ground after complaining about the rough treatment of another inmate who refused to get out of bed.

Their lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger, said up to 20 inmates were beaten in a continuous round of assaults known as “yard counseling” that occurred over 5½ hours. He released two videos taken by guards that he said shows a portion of the violence.

Freitas has denied any wrongdoing, saying deputies were responding to a coordinated mass disturbance that threatened staff and inmate security.

U.S. District Court Judge James Donato will hear oral arguments Wednesday from county attorneys seeking to dismiss the case.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.

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Former Santa Rosa Jail inmates file lawsuit against sheriff over beating

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Judge presses Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office on charging teen who sued


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Sonoma officials accused of retaliation in police brutality case

Gabrielle Lemos came away from an encounter with a sheriff’s deputy with swelling and bruising on her face.

Kimberly Veklerov

San Francisco Chronicle | March 21, 2016, 4:50PM

A Petaluma woman who suffered facial swelling, bruising and black eyes from an encounter with a sheriff’s deputy is accusing the Sonoma County district attorney’s office of retaliating against her for filing an excessive force claim.

The “unusual case and unusual proceeding,” as a judge called it last week, could put Sonoma County prosecutors on the witness stand as they answer for why they charged the woman, 19-year-old Gabrielle Lemos, with resisting arrest one day after she filed her lawsuit against the county — and weeks after they initially declined to file charges.

At issue is whether the misdemeanor charge against Lemos amounts to vindictive prosecution. While the criminal charge is pending, she cannot proceed with the civil suit she filed in federal court, according to her attorney, Izaak Schwaiger, who called the district attorney’s move to charge “unethical” and “a desperation play.”

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch — who was not directly involved in the decision to charge Lemos — said the vindictive prosecution allegation, filed in Sonoma County Superior Court in response to the charge, was “baseless.”

The case dates back to June 13, the night of a party for Lemos celebrating her graduation from Petaluma High School, when she got between a sheriff’s deputy and one of her sisters, Karli Labruzzi.

The deputy, Marcus Holton, pulled up to the Lemos family home to investigate a possible domestic violence situation involving Labruzzi and her boyfriend, who were sitting outside the house in a truck. Holton questioned the boyfriend outside the vehicle and then, according to the federal complaint, dragged Labruzzi off the passenger’s seat.

Lemos ran up to Holton and said her sister’s rights were violated by being yanked out of the truck without cause, and demanded that a female officer be present, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges that Holton then shoved Lemos backward and told her that no one else was coming. Family members tried to defuse the situation, and Lemos’ mother told her to get back inside the house.

But as Lemos was walking up the driveway toward the house, the lawsuit said, Holton grabbed her from behind, put her in a choke hold, then lifted her off the ground and tossed her face-first onto the driveway.

“Deputy Holton put his knee in the back of Gabbi’s head and began grinding her face into the gravel, despite her screams and her family’s pleas to stop,” the complaint alleged. “Deputy Holton yelled ‘Stop resisting!’ as blood pooled on the ground under Gabbi’s face.”

Deputy’s rebuttal

In court filings, Holton’s attorneys denied the characterization of the altercation.

Lemos was handcuffed, transported to a hospital, then jailed on suspicion of resisting arrest and battery on a peace officer.

Photos taken at the hospital and in the following days showed swelling and bruising to Lemos’ face.

Holton, who previously came under fire for shooting a man in 2011 because he suspected the man was reaching into his waistband for a weapon, remains on patrol as a deputy.

After three court appearances, the district attorney’s office declined to charge Lemos. In September, she was told the case had been rejected for filing.

But on Nov. 13, the day after Lemos filed her federal complaint — which named the county, the sheriff and Holton as defendants — the district attorney’s office filed one misdemeanor count of resisting arrest against her, putting the civil case on ice, Schwaiger said.

Ravitch said that members of her office made the decision to charge Lemos in early October and that there is a paper trail to back it up.

But Schwaiger alleged the criminal charge was a direct response to his client’s excessive-force complaint and not based on further investigation. The district attorney’s office admitted it received all the evidence in August.

“There’s no other possible reason,” Schwaiger said. “They had to reverse-engineer some justification.”

Judge’s action

Last week, as first reported by the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, a Sonoma County Superior Court judge heard arguments in the vindictive prosecution claim, which the district attorney’s office attempted to quash out of concern that prosecutors’ work-product privilege would be violated if they were forced to testify.

Judge Gary Medvigy on Wednesday decided to allow prosecutors to testify under subpoena for why they charged Lemos when they did, saying the timing of their actions can’t be ignored.

“It’s a question of fact as to when the decision was made by the D.A.’s office, and why it was made, because that’s the crux of the defense motion, that it was made for vindictive purpose,” Medvigy said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “So I’m going to hear the evidence. I’m going to pierce the privilege.”

The district attorney’s office is now appealing Medvigy’s decision to a three-judge Sonoma County panel.

The proceedings have the potential to set a legal precedent in the county for the degree to which prosecutors can retain their work-product privilege, which shields materials attorneys use to prepare for litigation.

The next hearing is scheduled for April 13.

Kimberly Veklerov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @kveklerov

Read the original article here.


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Legal action against battered Petaluma teen called retaliatory

Gabbi Lemos is shown in family photos at her graduation from Petaluma High School in June and two days after her arrest a few days later.

Decision to charge Gabbi Lemos with resisting arrest called retaliatory


THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | March 16, 2016, 5:03PM

A Petaluma woman who was charged with resisting arrest one day after she filed a police brutality lawsuit is accusing the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office of vindictive prosecution.

Lawyers for Gabbi Lemos, 18, on Wednesday accused prosecutors of trying to derail her federal claim that Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Marcus Holton threw her on a driveway and smashed her face into the ground during her June arrest outside her family home.

She alleges prosecutors reviewed all the evidence submitted over a monthlong period, including officer videos, and rejected the case for filing on Sept. 11. But the decision was reversed Nov. 13 when a different prosecutor was assigned and announced Lemos would be charged with the misdemeanor offense.

The switch happened a day after Lemos filed her brutality suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch called the timing coincidental, saying her office’s decision to charge Lemos was based on evidence.

Lemos’ lawyers said a conviction would prevent the 2015 Petaluma High School graduate and former soccer team captain from claiming monetary damages.

“If they get a conviction, the civil suit goes away,” said her attorney, Izaak Schwaiger. “And then all of a sudden, the county doesn’t have to answer for what Deputy Holton did to her.”

A finding that prosecutors acted vindictively could lead to a dismissal of the charge, clearing the way for the suit to go forward, he said.

On Wednesday, Judge Gary Medvigy ruled Lemos’ attorneys could question Juliette Hyde and Jenica Leonard, the deputy prosecutors who handled the case, saying, “You can’t just ignore the timing.”

However, that effort was blocked by a district attorney manager, who argued information about the decision-making process was privileged and should not be divulged under work-product rules. The judge granted the request for a stay from Chief Deputy District Attorney Troye Shaffer so his ruling could be reviewed by an appeals panel.

Lemos’ attorneys accused prosecutors of a cover-up.

“They are doing everything in their power to avoid telling the public why they are pursuing this case,” said Schwaiger, a former Sonoma County prosecutor.

Ravitch denied her office was attempting to hide anything.

She said the prosecutor and her management team reviewed the allegations against Lemos more than a month before the civil suit was filed and decided in October to charge her with resisting arrest.

But Ravitch said the case wasn’t filed until after the civil suit, in part because the prosecutor was waiting to talk to the deputy sheriff, Holton. She reached him Nov. 12 and the complaint was filed electronically the next day, she said.

“It was simply a coincidence,” Ravitch said Wednesday.

She would not discuss what evidence caused the change after the case had been previously rejected. She said her chiefs discussed material such as body camera recordings in round-table discussions and agreed to charge Lemos.

Ravitch said she did not know what the recordings show.

“I relied on the wisdom of my managers,” Ravitch said.

Meanwhile, Lemos’ attorney said her civil case is on hold pending the resolution of any criminal charges.

Lemos alleges she was assaulted by Holton following a graduation party at the family’s Liberty Road home on June 13.

The deputy apparently pulled over to talk to occupants of an idling vehicle that included Lemos’ sister and her boyfriend.

Lemos said she rushed forward and complained when Holton threw open the door and grabbed her sister. She alleges Holton shoved her and came after her when she retreated, putting her in a neck hold and throwing her face-first onto the driveway.

She accuses the deputy of putting a knee into her back and grinding her face into the gravel as she and family members screamed at him to stop.

Lemos was treated at a hospital and booked into the jail on suspicion of resisting an officer.

She suffered facial bruising and a black eye.

Now a Santa Rosa Junior College student, Lemos appeared in court three times last year before learning, initially, she would not be charged.

Prosecutors agreed they had received all the evidence about a month earlier on Aug. 14.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.

Read the original story here.

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Sonoma County picks independent watchdog for Sheriff’s Office

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | March 2, 2016, 3:53PM

Sonoma County supervisors Wednesday announced that a Bay Area attorney has been chosen to launch a new county department charged with providing the first-ever independent civilian eye on the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Jerry Threet, who has been a deputy city attorney in San Francisco for 11 years, will run the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, a new county department aimed at building community confidence in law enforcement and transparency around police practices.

The creation of the office is a direct response — more than two years in the making — to the 2013 death of Andy Lopez, who was shot by a deputy who mistook the boy’s airsoft BB gun to be an assault rifle. The shooting sparked passionate public outcry, protests and a county-led effort to create a tangible response to the troubled police-community relations that were revealed, particularly among Latino, immigrant and working class residents of southwest Santa Rosa.Supervisor Efren Carrillo said that while the protests have subsided in the two years that have passed, the creation of the office “is just as important today as it’s ever been.“As we look forward, for the community as a whole, this will be one of the most important decisions this board has made in the last decade.”Threet, 55, who moved to Sebastopol last year, was selected from 40 candidates across the country. The board chose Threet from three top candidates selected by a series of interview panels comprised of county staff, law enforcement and community members.

Carrillo said Threet stood out among the candidates because of the nature of his experience working in San Francisco, a diverse city with passionate political activism. His work demonstrated a commitment to government transparency and serving disadvantaged communities, the supervisor said.

“I believe that Jerry has the experience and the background and the sensitivity around race relations,” to do the job, Carrillo said.

The creation of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach was the most ambitious recommendation made by the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force, a group formed by county supervisors to create an action plan that would address police-community relations after Lopez’ death. The county approved the idea for the office last year.

Caroline Bañuelos, chair of the task force, said that she was on an interview panel and that Threet was one of her top choices.

“He seemed really interested in the reasons why we were doing this and wanting to be part of that process,” Bañuelos said. “That’s the thing that impressed me, beyond his qualifications.”

Task force member and former supervisor Eric Koenigshofer, who was on the committee that developed the recommendation and interview panel, said that selecting a director was “a major moment for our community.”

Threet’s role as a deputy city attorney for San Francisco put him in the position of protecting consumers, residents and employees, according to the county’s official summary of his experience. His work included enforcing health and safety codes and public records and public meeting laws, as well as litigating cases aimed at protecting people against illegal business practices.

“My entire professional career has been focused on ensuring that government provides fairness and justice for ordinary people and is as transparent as possible. I will continue to work toward those same goals in this new position,” Threet said in a written statement.

Threet’s appointment is expected to be made official March 15 when the board of supervisors votes on the decision.

Until then, Threet is finishing out his tenure with the city of San Francisco, and was unavailable for comment Wednesday because of a public city meeting expected to stretch into the evening.

Sheriff Steve Freitas also was not available for comment Wednesday, a spokeswoman said.

Threet will head up an office with a budget of nearly $827,000 through the end of June 2017. The board approved annual pay for the director of $254,402, including salary and benefits. One of Threet’s first jobs will be hiring an administrative aide from a pool of candidates already recruited by the county.

The job description outlined by the task force and reaffirmed by county supervisors involves developing a strong working relationship with the Sheriff’s Office as well as a diverse array of community members. The Sheriff’s Office is under no legal obligation to share its internal files, such as citizen complaint investigations, but Freitas has indicated he is willing to do so with a lawyer bound by confidentiality laws.

County supervisors have said the office should have a proactive public presence and move quickly to hire staff, develop a work plan and create a civilian advisory board and youth council.

Marni Wroth, a community activist who was a regular, outspoken presence at the task force meetings as a member of the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez, reacted to the news of Threet’s expected appointment with caution.

Wroth’s 28-year-old son was just last month awarded $1.25 million in a settlement with Sonoma County, in possibly the largest police brutality payout ever from a county law enforcement agency to a person who didn’t die of his injuries.

In January 2013, correctional deputies shot Essa Wroth 23 times with a Taser while he was being booked into the jail on drunken-driving charges. The struggle was captured in a 29-minute videotape.

“The officers that beat my son, they didn’t lose their jobs. That’s a problem, that’s truly a problem,” Wroth said. “And I’m hoping (Threet) won’t be business as usual, that he’ll be able to take complaints, scrutinize them, and if there are critical incidents, respond to them.”

Before working for the San Francisco city attorney’s office, Threet served as a litigation attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust division and he worked on class-action racial discrimination litigation as a contract attorney with the Northern California U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Threet managed the campaign of Jake McGoldrick, who was elected San Francisco County supervisor in 2001 and served until 2009. Threet served as McGoldrick’s chief of staff for his first four years in office.

He has volunteered as president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, board president of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and as a member of the Berkeley Public Works Commission and San Francisco Green County Council.

Threet received a joint degree in Law and Public Policy from the University of Texas in 1988.

He is married to Seth Ubogy, and the couple recently moved to Sebastopol with their two daughters, ages 5 and 7.

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Palo Alto attorney Bob Aaronson hired as Santa Rosa police auditor


THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | February 29, 2016, 5:43PM

Santa Rosa has hired a police auditor to review the police department’s internal investigations into complaints, officer discipline and use-of-force incidents.

Bob Aaronson, a Palo Alto attorney who also serves as the police auditor in Davis and Santa Cruz, will work on a part-time, on-call basis and already has begun reviewing complaints and personnel investigations since the city quietly retained his services in January.

Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder said that he originally hired Aaronson in 2014 to produce a one-time review of the way his department investigates citizen complaints and other internal investigation practices. Schreeder said Aaronson’s report led to several changes, such as collecting more data on how officers use force. He and city manager Sean McGlynn agreed to hire Aaronson on an ongoing basis.

“What the community will learn is we’re not afraid of being evaluated,” Schreeder said.

Aaronson said he has an office within the Police Department and access to internal records. Aaronson will be in Santa Rosa six days a month for the first three months, and then he will be in the city three days each month going forward. He will be paid a flat fee of $6,000 per month, not to exceed $60,000 per year, and is expected to be reachable at all times, according to a contract signed Dec. 30.

The move comes as Sonoma County is poised to announce a director to lead the newly created Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach to provide civilian oversight of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. Human Resources Director Christina Cramer said that the top candidate has accepted the position and the county will announce the appointment once he’s given notice at his current job.

The public will never see Aaronson’s first project for the city. Aaronson spent about three months reviewing 60 personnel investigations and he produced a 20-page report to the City Attorney’s office, which allowed its findings to remain confidential.

Schreeder said that was by design, so that he could gain insight into departmental operations and procedures involving personnel matters protected by state law.

City Council member Julie Combs said that she believes hiring a police auditor is a “wonderful first step,” but she expects that some of the auditor’s work will be made public.

“Transparency is a big issue for me,” Combs said. “I understand it might be nice to start out more quietly, but at some point, the council needs to have a report on the findings.”

The changes prompted by his review, some still underway, include assigning a full-time sergeant to conduct internal investigations. Previously, the investigations fell to direct supervisors of the individual named in the complaint.
Schreeder said the department also has added steps to the way use-of-force incidents are investigated. The officer’s supervising sergeant interviews the officer and reads the report. Now, the supervisor also interviews the person upon whom force was used as well as witnesses.

Aaronson will have a hand in shaping a wide variety of other practices, such as how the department uses body camera footage and increasing information provided to people who file complaints against officers.

“One of the things I’m working on with Bob is what can we tell people, legally, so people have a feeling of closure and confidence that it was looked into thoroughly,” Schreeder said.

Aaronson has served as the police auditor in Santa Cruz and Davis for 13 and 10 years, respectively.

Aaronson said he began developing an expertise in police internal affairs procedures in the 1980s while a deputy city attorney in San Francisco. He’s conducted internal affairs audits and provided other analysis for agencies across California, including those in Contra Costa County, Anaheim, Fresno and Modesto.

He said he aims to eventually spend time with each officer in the department, mostly in the patrol car out in the field, and earn trust that his recommendations will improve the department.

“One of the advantages I bring is that I’ve seen a lot,” Aaronson said.

Aaronson said that in his experience, a police department of about 100 sworn officers typically receives 25 complaints per year. He estimates that 80 percent of complaints are generated by about 20 percent of a department’s workforce. Santa Rosa received 86 citizen complaints in 2014. Of those, 55 were determined to be unfounded, eight were sustained and the remainder inconclusive or otherwise resolved.

“For every complaint, I believe there are 10 other people who are reluctant to come forward,” Aaronson said. “I want more people to come forward so we have an opportunity to know what’s going on.”

Asked what Santa Rosa city residents are likely to learn about their Police Department from his work, Aaronson said that he is less committed to being transparent than he is to making the department function better from within.

“If you and I are best friends and I saw from across the room that your fly is open, I can shout this or I can walk over and whisper in your ear,” Aaronson said. “I don’t want to win the battle but lose the war.”

He said that Santa Rosa would ideally establish something like a police commission to which he would report his findings. In Santa Cruz, Aaronson gives in-depth reports to a committee of the City Council in a closed session.

Santa Rosa has joined 23 other law enforcement jurisdictions in California that have some form of civilian oversight. Sonoma County’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach will be the 24th. County supervisors approved a budget of about $800,000 for the first 18 months of the program.

Aaronson can be reached at 543-4179 or

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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