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Sacramento sheriff: ‘I give ICE unfettered access to our jails’

Sheriff Scott Jones speaks to Board of Supervisors about oversight

Sheriff Scott Jones speaks to the County Board of Supervisors about the Inspector General oversight of his department, Tuesday, December 4, 2018.
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Sheriff Scott Jones speaks to the County Board of Supervisors about the Inspector General oversight of his department, Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

Though Sacramento County in June dropped its contract to house federal immigration detainees in county jails, Sheriff Scott Jones Monday gave details of who had been held for ICE last year in local lockups.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department held 1,303 immigrants at county facilities in 2017 as part of a contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs. About 83 percent of those detainees were Hispanic, according to demographic data presented to the board by Jones. Over the course of 2017, ICE conducted 51 interviews at county facilities, constituting about 2 percent of all law enforcement interviews that took place.

The Board of Supervisors forum held Monday was mandated by the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds, or TRUTH Act, which took effect in 2016 and requires jurisdictions housing federal immigration detainees hold at least one public meeting a year to give data on those detentions.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department no longer houses federal immigrant detainees. It previously had a contract with ICE to house up to 165 detainees in deportation proceedings at its Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center.

The Board of Supervisors voted to end that deal over the summer, a move to cancel the contract that came as the state cracked down on both public and private detention centers after reports of harsh conditions. Last year, the California legislature passed a measure, AB 103, that prevents public jails from entering into new contracts with ICE or expanding or modifying existing contracts, along with two other immigration bills — SB 54 and AB 450 — which created more protections for immigrant workers and limited law enforcement cooperation with ICE.

Much of the public comment at the meeting focused on the provisions of SB 54, also called the California Values Act, which prohibits local and state law enforcement from sharing data or assisting immigration enforcement agents, except in cases where the person of interest has been previously deported for a violent felony, or is serving time on a specific list of serious misdemeanors and felonies and also has a prior felony conviction.

Jones told the board that since the Trust Act took effect in 2014, the department had not honored “detainer” requests from ICE to hold inmates past their release dates for immigration reasons.

“We allow them to file detainers on folks (but) it has no legal effect. We immediately dismiss it in terms of holding them in custody,” Jones told the board. “If (an inmate) got a detainer, bailed out an hour later, they’re getting out. They’re not going to be held for any one second longer than their local charges would allow.”

Jones repeatedly emphasized that no “coordinated” activities occur with ICE, and said through this procedure, the department was in compliance with SB 54. Jones also said ICE agents do have access to Sacramento jail facilities and records.

Supervisor Phil Serna asked Jones how ICE could know to request a detainer on an inmate. Jones responded that “ICE has access to our facility, they’re in our facility regularly and they have access to our databases.”

“We don’t give people heads up, we don’t give them calls, ‘Hey you might want to look at this person,’” Jones said. “It’s entirely their own operation utilizing the information that we make available to them in the jail.”

While ICE, like any local law enforcement agency, enters Sacramento County jail facilities regularly, department spokesman Sgt. Shaun Hampton said that only information accessed by ICE is already publicly available on its website, as mandated by law.

“We have so many (inmates) going in there at different times, we’re not going to take time to focus on a person who might be wanted by ICE to slip them a note,” Hampton said.

Some civil rights activists and legal experts expressed concerns that the spirit of SB 54 was being violated by county procedures.

Sheriff’s department policies regarding interaction with ICE obtained by The Bee state that ICE will be notified of immigration warrants and hits on the state law enforcement database, CLETS, and that “it will be the responsibility of ICE to act upon this information.”

In addition, the release officer with the sheriff’s department will notify ICE “as soon as possible” about inmates being released that have a canceled ICE detainer and a completed “SB 54 verification form” on file — a form that must list the qualifying criminal conviction that exempts the inmate from SB 54 protections.

“What I heard Sheriff Jones explaining is, ‘We don’t communicate with ICE, we don’t actively cooperate with ICE at any level,’” said Sean Riordan, an attorney with the ACLU Northern California, during the meeting. “However I don’t see that reflected in the policies we’ve received (and) it’s not reflected, in simple terms, in the experiences people have had in being transferred from sheriff’s custody to ICE custody.”

It’s unclear how often these communications between the department and ICE occurred or if they resulted in people being taken into federal custody, Riordan said.

“Now more than ever we need accountability, we need transparency and we would like our sheriff as well as our Board of Supervisors really to release aggregate data on what the situation is with ICE and (its) interaction with the sheriff’s department,” said Rhonda Rios Kavitz, co-founder of Step Up!, an immigrant activist group.

Jones said after the meeting that because the county’s contract with ICE ended in June, detention data at next year’s forum will “look different” than this year’s.

“It’s no secret, I give ICE unfettered access to our jails and our databases, they can come in one or ten, I don’t know, we don’t track,” Jones said. “There’s answers for all of those questions — they’re not going to be nearly as sexy or as clandestine as some people suspect, quiet frankly.”

This article was updated Dec. 18 at 4:30 p.m. to clarify state laws and county policies.

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