Still No Oversight Of Riverside Sheriff’s Department Even As Corrections Officers Are Arrested–And More Inmates Die

Photos: Black Voice News\YouTube Screenshots

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Subsequent to the publication of this editorial I learned that on Sunday,  September 17, 2023,  another Riverside corrections officer was arrested for allegedly transporting 44 pounds of narcotics while armed and traveling along Interstate 10. This was followed on Monday, September 18, 2023, with the report of yet another in-custody death involving an inmate housed at the Cois Byrd Detention Center in Riverside County. The saga continues….

A 2023 California Democratic Party Resolution states, “Whereas recent incidents and concerns regarding the conduct of some law enforcement personnel have demonstrated the necessity of independent oversight…not all counties have established an oversight board.”

The resolution calls for the creation of the Office of Inspector General and Oversight Committees for Law Enforcement Agencies in counties of California that have not established oversight boards under existing California law–including here in Riverside County where in-custody deaths continue to mount.

The need for such oversight in this county is more than warranted. With a record number of 19 in-custody deaths in 2022 and the number of in-custody deaths climbing again this year––two additional in-custody deaths were  recorded in the last 30 days—-the sheriff and the county’s Board of Supervisors seem hesitant to do anything different whether it is reviewing policy or establishing oversight to put brakes on the recurring loss of lives.

Despite an ongoing Patterns and Practices Civil Rights investigation of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department by California Attorney General Rob Bonta that was triggered by  the increased number of deaths in Riverside County jail facilities last year, Sheriff Chad Bianco seems unable to direct his disheveled corps of deputies to protect the lives of those entrusted to their care.

“Any death in custody is potentially unlawful. The duty to properly investigate all deaths in custody is not an option, but an obligation under international law.”

– Morris Tidball-Binz

UN Special Rapporteur

Although sheriff departments in  both Los Angeles and San Diego Counties have acquiesced to oversight and despite Bianco’s promise when under pressure last year to acquiesce to a mere review of sheriff department policies  that he would  would set up a sheriff’s advisory council–he has made zero visible effort in that regard.

Bianco’s resistance to oversight is evident and he does so with the full throated support of his puppeteer, Riverside County Sheriff’s Association President Bill Young. This included pushback against efforts by the Board Supervisors for any type of transparency related to the sheriff’s department.

As noted above, in 2020, following the death of George Floyd, Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez proposed a measure calling for a review of the sheriff department policies that regulate  the use of force, mass demonstrations, consent before searches, racial profiling, gender identification, community policing and crime reduction. Although the measure did not include a recommendation for the establishment of an oversight committee/commission, this simple request for a mere review of policies was roundly rejected by Young who declared,  “While we understand the current spotlight on policing, we do not believe that it is constructive to have a political body demand full-scale policy reviews when they do not have the legal authority to set or change any policy that is reviewed.” And in response, as to be expected by those who depend on police union support for their reelection campaigns, board members backed away from the measure and it has yet to resurface for consideration.

With this history it is no surprise that even with the aberrant number of deaths in Riverside County’s jail facilities in 2022, and a Patterns and Practices Civil Rights investigation into the sheriff’s department in 2023, the Board has failed to move on  any measure aimed at reviewing sheriff department policy, holding the sheriff’s department accountable or providing even limited oversight.

Of course, because sheriffs are elected and not appointed like city police chiefs, the Board  has limited legal power and authority over the sheriff and how he manages the department as he arrogantly reminded them last year.

“It’s not your job to tell me what to do,” Bianco proclaimed in response to the Perez  measure. This is when he shared his intent to form an advisory council making it clear however, that he alone would decide who should participate in it. As previously noted, he never delivered on that proclamation.

There are, however, other options. AB1185 signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019, authorized but did not mandate, counties to establish a sheriff oversight board to assist boards of supervisors with duties related to the sheriff. The law provides this can occur either by action of the Board or through a vote of county residents.

It is obvious from this group photo that the Riverside County Sheriff’s department has strayed from projecting even the bare minimum image of professionalism and is more at ease with a disheveled projection of what the department has become under the stewardship of Chad Bianco. (source: twitter).

This is another example of well intended legislative reform related to criminal justice that falls short of its mark because as we see here in Riverside, without a mandate the measure is powerless as board members appear powerless or unwilling to push back against the pressures and influence of police unions who were adamantly opposed to the bill.

There is a caveat however, if the supervisors fail or refuse to act,  a local measure can be placed on the ballot thereby giving voters an opportunity to decide for themselves.

In the meantime, the attorney general continues his civil rights investigation, while inmates (most still awaiting trial) continue to die in-custody.

Without some sort of oversight, I question how will we ever know the truth about inmate deaths since the  Coroner, who investigates and reports on all violent, sudden or  unusual deaths of those within the county including those in-custody, is under the auspices of the sheriff.

“Politics is killing our country and this is an example,”  said Bianco in response to the 2020 measure proposed by V. Manuel Perez.

To that I say, “No, Chad,” it is your ineffective leadership and band of misfits currently operating as officers in our jail facilities that are killing members of this community.

And when I say misfits I mean exactly that. On Wednesday, Sept. 13 a Riverside correctional deputy was arrested when it was determined he was under the influence of a drug and in possession of it inside a jail. And we wonder why inmates are dying of overdoses.

A few days later, on Saturday, September 16 another corrections deputy was arrested this time the charges were even worse. He is suspected of extorting female inmates for sex and sexually assaulting one of them.

While the community sits back waiting for the completion of the Civil Rights investigation, people continue to die on Bianco’s watch. It seems apparent the Board of Supervisors is frozen and will not act against Bianco.

Is the community willing to settle for such inaction or will it take it upon themselves to force a measure onto a future ballot calling for the establishment of a sheriff oversight board as authorized under AB1185?

I think it is passed time for citizens to act on this issue.

Of course this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E Williams is the executive editor of IE Voice and Black Voice News.

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