The County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to look into establishing a citizens review board to monitor the Sheriff’s Department, following emotional testimony by the father of a Vista man who was killed by a reserve deputy.
“Let’s at least make the Sheriff’s Department think before they try, convict and execute on the spot again,” said Joe Bray, father of the young man who was gunned down last month at his apartment complex. Deputies mistook Jeff Bray for a car thief and shot him when he put his pickup truck into reverse and hit the patrol car.
The board’s decision came on the heels of a grand jury recommendation to create a citizens review board independent of the Sheriff’s Department.
“There’s a credibility gap that’s been created, and we need to address that gap,” Supervisor Brian Bilbray said. “We do not have the level of public confidence out in the community that we once had.”
The board directed its staff to return within 45 days with a report on how to establish the review board, set up its authority and responsibilities and select its members.
The staff also was told to consider whether it would make sense instead to form a second grand jury specifically to investigate, review and monitor the sheriff’s practices and policies. Such a jury would serve only a one-year term and would be appointed by the supervisors.
The review board could be established through an ordinance or a charter amendment. The amendment would require a majority vote in an election. The ordinance process would create a weaker board that would lack subpoena powers or access to sheriff’s investigation and personnel files, which are confidential.
Richard Reed, representing Sheriff John Duffy, said a citizens review committee would duplicate agencies already in place, such as the Sheriff’s Department’s internal affairs division, the grand jury, the district attorney’s office and the FBI.
“The sheriff feels strongly that the grand jury is the proper mechanism for reviewing citizens’ complaints,” Reed told the board.
But Supervisor Susan Golding, who urged the formation of the review board, said a grand jury’s one-year term would preclude carrying the experience of one jury over to the next.
Golding, who supports having the tenure of grand jury members extended to two years, said members of successful citizens review boards elsewhere in the nation have four-year terms.
The independence of a citizens review committee also is important, Golding argued, along with the ability to subpoena and other investigative powers.
Elvira Diaz, an aide to Golding, said San Francisco is the only county in the state with a citizens review board of its sheriff’s department.
In the mid-1970s, San Diego County had a citizens review board that failed because it lacked the investigative powers that a charter entity would have, Diaz said.
The city of San Diego has had a citizens review board for the Police Department since 1989, after a ballot initiative passed the previous November.
George Penn, director of the city’s review board, said the degree of power and independence that such a review board needs depends on the severity of the problem at hand.
“A review board needs as much power as it takes to get public confidence back,” Penn said. “It depends on how severe the climate is, and I would judge, in light of the recent shooting and the jail over-crowding situation, that the sheriff’s situation is severe.
“I’d say that you would need a lot of independence to overcome the community and legislative doubt about the forthrightness and fairness of the process in the Sheriff’s Department. It’s obvious they’ve lost that.”
Assistant Sheriff Jack Drown, a candidate for sheriff who is backed by Duffy, said he would prefer a second grand jury rather than a review board. Jim Roache, a Lemon Grove sheriff’s captain and Drown’s opponent, said he supports the creation of an independent citizens review board.