The Sheriff’s Department is collecting data on when its deputies need to use force when interacting with inmates. The latest report finds more uses of force this year than last. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

SF sheriff’s deputies uses of force often involves pepper spray

Pepper-spraying fighting inmates and struggling with uncooperative inmates were among 34 reported uses of force by San Francisco Sheriff’s Department deputies in the first quarter of 2017, according to the department’s latest report.

Overall, the report shows that uses of force by deputies have been on the rise this year, following a similar rise in the end of last year.

But the Sheriff’s Department contends that much of the rise is due to the fact that deputies now report using pepper spray. The good news, according to the department, is that only one of the incidents was investigated for wrongdoing.

“Most of these, I am very proud of the way that deputies have handled themselves,” said Sheriff Vicki Hennessy. “When you look at it, it’s not excessive.”

The 34 incidents so far this year were only slightly higher than the 33 in the last three months of 2016. There were only eight use-of-force incidents in the previous quarter and 11 the quarter before that, which is when the department starting collecting such data.

“I think it’s a good thing to collect,” said Hennessy, noting that it may help them weed out troubled deputies. “We do have a flag on [deputies] and go back and look at them.” But Hennessy said she had not compared their numbers to similar jail facilities.

The data, which was mandated by The City starting last year, mirrors what the San Francisco Police Department has collected over that same period. Both departments have endured scandals involving officers and deputies using force, and the data collection is in part meant to monitor how such force is used and against whom.

In the Sheriff’s Department’s case, a group of deputies were discovered in March 2015 to have been staging fights between inmates in County Jail 4 inside the Hall of Justice. Three of those deputies were charged with a number of felonies in March 2016.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who first released the information about the fights, said this information will help make the department more accountable.

“Jail inmates are particularly vulnerable to abuse because they are routinely disbelieved — the public automatically takes the word of a sworn law enforcement officer over someone accused of a crime,” said Adachi in a statement to the San Francisco Examiner. “That’s why accountability and transparency around use of force are critical. In San Francisco, we have seen firsthand the kind of sadistic nightmares that arise when there is no one guarding the guards.”

The latest data release on use of force may help outsiders understand what’s happening inside San Francisco’s jail facilities and among its roughly 850 deputies and 1,256 inmates. It will also help Hennessy analyze where, why and who is using force under her command.

“What I’m seeing is that pepper spray really is effective [for] keeping people from fighting each other and from keeping our deputies from being hurt,” said Hennessy. “It looks like we’ve had more fights.”

The numbers

The most common type of force used was a hold during a struggle. In all, there were 13 such incidents. The use of pepper spray was the second most common use of force with 11 incidents.

Thirty of the incidents happened inside a jail facility.

Seven of the incidents happened in County Jail 7 in San Bruno. County Jail 1, the intake facility on Seventh Street, had five; County Jail 4, in the Hall of Justice, had four incidents and County Jail 2, the women’s facility, had three.

The rest of the incidents happened while deputies were on patrol. During that period the department made 153 arrests, which was also part of the report.

The majority — 62 percent — of inmates involved in the incidents were white males, followed by black males, who made up 27 percent. Only two women were involved in such incidents.


Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink

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