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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