Sheriff Vicki Hennessy and Supervisor Shamann Walton, right. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Supervisor floats 2020 ballot measure to boost sheriff oversight

Walton calls Hennessy plan for independent investigations a ‘good start’ but wants more

San Francisco’s sheriff is letting a police watchdog agency investigate allegations of deputy misconduct at County Jail.

But that’s not enough for a city supervisor who wants voters to decide whether the Sheriff’s Department needs additional oversight.

Supervisor Shamann Walton is pushing for a 2020 ballot measure that would create an oversight board to hold the sheriff accountable for disciplinary decisions and require independent investigations of deputy misconduct by law.

Walton called an agreement that Sheriff Vicki Hennessy announced Monday for the Department of Police Accountability to investigate certain cases of deputy misconduct a “good start.” But Hennessy plans to retire at the end of her term.

“We won’t always have the same sheriff in place,” Walton said. “We need laws on the books that say a third party will investigate.”

The sheriff has faced calls for increased oversight since February, when prosecutors dropped charges against three deputies accused of staging an inmate fight club because the Sheriff’s Department botched the investigation.

Fanning the flames, the San Francisco Examiner first reported on a new round of allegations later that month that deputies had physically abused and improperly strip searched a number of inmates in late 2018.

Hennessy turned over 21 internal investigations into the cases to the DPA in March after facing scrutiny from the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

That resulted in Hennessy and DPA Director Paul Henderson signing a memorandum of understanding May 2 to allow the DPA to investigate those allegations and certain other types of cases.

But the agreement falls short of requiring the DPA to investigate any cases. It says the DPA “agrees to investigate specific serious inmate complaints” of on-duty misconduct, but does not say the agency must investigate.

The document also says the DPA can investigate cases including in-custody deaths and complaints from inmates of excessive force, retaliation and sexual assault “at the Sheriffs request.”

“The MOU is a work in progress,” said Nancy Crowley, a spokesperson for Hennessy. “It will probably be strengthened once people are in place and moving forward, but this is the first step.”

Crowley said the department is waiting for the results of the 21 investigations Hennessy handed to the DPA, as well as the findings from two new cases the department has since turned over to the watchdog agency.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, the only candidate running to replace Hennessy in November, said his understanding is that the MOU is like a pilot program. If elected, Miyamoto said he plans to build on the partnership with the DPA.

“Part of who I am and what I am about is representative of many of the values that Sheriff Hennessy has,” Miyamoto said. “There will be a consistency in leadership as we move forward in the event that I’m given the opportunity to be the next sheriff.”

Ballot measure

Walton plans to introduce his proposed charter amendment to the Board of Supervisors next year. The supervisors would need to vote in favor of the proposal for it to appear on the ballot.

Tracy Gallardo, a legislative aide for Walton, said the details of the proposal have not all been ironed out.

But it might require an independent body like the DPA to investigate complaints against deputies such as excessive force, discrimination and harassment.

Gallardo said the proposed oversight board might make policy recommendations to the sheriff.

But unlike the Police Commission, the board would not have the authority to make disciplinary decisions.

“By state law, the sheriff retains discretion to take disciplinary action,” said Crowley, the sheriff spokesperson. “As far as whether she would or would not support a board, she needs to see the legislation before she renders an opinion on that.”

The board could still review the sheriff’s disciplinary findings and hold the sheriff accountable for the decisions.

Like the current MOU, Gallardo said the proposed ballot measure might require regular data reporting.

The MOU requires the DPA and the sheriff to regularly report on data including findings and disciplinary decisions in sustained cases.

Under the two-year budget, the DPA was given two positions to handle the increased caseload from the Sheriff’s Department.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Editor’s Note: This story has been revised to remove incorrect information on the intended date of the proposed ballot measure.

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