The sheriff’s cadet targeted by Supervisor Shamann Walton’s racial slur called the incident an example of a powerful elected official treating a low-level employee with disrespect. But Walton says the cadet chose to amplify what happened in the media as retaliation for the supervisor pushing for civilian oversight of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.
“As a proponent for greater accountability with our city’s law enforcement agencies,” Walton said, “I was fully aware that I may be a target for retaliation.”
Sheriff’s officials batted away Walton’s claims as “completely unfounded,” saying the flap over his comment to the cadet had nothing to do with the yet-to-launch oversight board, which voters passed on the fall 2020 ballot. Agency spokesperson Tara Moriarty said Sheriff Paul Miyamoto has always welcomed more scrutiny and fully cooperated with the mandate to establish the board in the wake of the George Floyd protests.
The recent back-and-forth between Walton and the Sheriff’s Department over the watchdog board has reignited questions about why it’s taken so long to get it off the ground.
Though two years have passed since its conception, officials say six of the seven board members have been appointed and trained. And their first meeting is set to take place later this month.
The slow rollout has frustrated members and backers, including Walton’s staff.
“We’ve been extremely disappointed at the slow startup,” Tracy Gallardo, an aide to Walton, told The Standard. “It’s all good-intentioned, but very bureaucratic.”
So where does the oversight body stand today? Here’s what we learned.
Unlike the San Francisco Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department all but lacks civilian oversight, though the city’s Department of Police Accountability does investigate some of its misconduct cases.
Their responsibilities include investigating complaints from the public, use of force incidents that result in injury, sexual misconduct, intentional use of a weapon, reckless disregard for health and safety, retaliation, harassment and sexual misconduct.
That’s why, with momentum brought by the push for greater accountability after a summer of protests against police brutality in 2020, Walton advocated for a successful ballot measure to create the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board.
Though the sheriff has been vocal about supporting the oversight body, it wasn’t until July 2021 that the Board of Supervisors appointed four members, who were later paired with three mayoral appointees. One of those board members is required to be a sheriff’s deputy.
Ovava Eterei Afuhaamango, Jayson Wechter, William Monroe Palmer II and Michael Nguyen are the members assigned by the Board of Supervisors. Palmer and Afuhaamango will end their terms March 1, 2023.
Wechter and Nguyen end their terms March 1, 2025. Mayoral appointees include Dion-Jay Brookter and Julie Soo, both of whom end their tenure on March 1, 2025. The last mayoral appointee is Xochitl Carrion.
The board is on schedule to host its inaugural session on Aug. 22, even though at least two of its members will term out in eight months, leaving it less than scant time to appoint an inspector general, investigators and other staff.
Moriarty said her office has helped train everyone on the Sheriff’s Oversight Board, spending 20 hours with each of the seven members to create “a positive working relationship.”
While the board has yet to meet, sheriff misconduct cases have been investigated by an outside body for a year.
In August 2021, the DPA and sheriff signed an agreement giving the agency investigative oversight of serious misconduct cases and complaints.
And there were a lot that the agency found legitimate.
Of 130 cases investigated by the DPA from 2018 to the present, 61 were of a serious nature. In all, the DPA sustained 16% of the cases they investigated. That is far higher than the police misconduct case sustained rate of 11% and far above the national average of 4%, according to the DPA’s annual report.
The head of the city’s DPA, Paul Henderson, said much of the responsibility for putting the body into place has fallen on his agency, an independent civilian subsidiary of City Hall.
“While the charter amendment was passed in November 2020, the responsibility for creating the department was left floating,” Henderson explained. “When the measure went into effect in January 2021, the only guiding documents for the creation of this department were the charter provision and a budget and legislative analyst memo, which was modeled on DPA.”
Henderson said that, nonetheless, his office recently stepped in to provide technical assistance, training and budget planning for the nascent board. Still, he said the expertise and aid his agency was able to give was limited.
“We were brought to the table too late to provide our insight into creating an agency modeled on best practices,” Henderson said.
Barbara Attard, a veteran police oversight expert who helped write the ballot measure that created the body, said it often takes a while for such entities to get started, which can be aggravating.
“I’m confident once it’s got up and running it will be effective,” she said. “But it’s frustrating, though, that it’s not moving any faster than the snail’s pace that it’s going.”
Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org