San Francisco’s police watchdog found improper conduct in five of the 12 cases it closed against sheriff’s deputies in 2022, a rate five times the state average for law-enforcement oversight agencies.
But these cases from 2022 may never result in any disciplinary action — at least, no action involving civilian oversight. The choice to take disciplinary action falls squarely on Sheriff Paul Miyamoto and his internal team.
The Department of Police Accountability, an oversight agency created by voter mandate in 2016, investigated 12 “serious misconduct” cases involving 100 different allegations against sheriff’s deputies, according to a report it will present in September to the civilian Sheriff’s Oversight Board.
Unlike the powerful Police Commission, its counterpart, the Sheriff’s Oversight Board, has little power: It cannot hold hearings or take disciplinary action for misconduct. And the Department of Police Accountability has interim power to review only certain serious complaints and share its findings. It cannot recommend or enforce discipline. Both are the purview of Miyamoto.
That will change once the Sheriff’s Oversight Board hires an inspector general, who will lead an office with stronger investigative authority. But the Sheriff’s Oversight Board has struggled with infighting since its creation nearly one year ago, and has yet to fulfill its key mandate of hiring an inspector general.
The board did not hear the Department of Police Accountability’s findings at its Friday meeting, as it adheres to a strict three-hour time limit, and ended the meeting before any possible discussion. It will not meet publicly for another two months.
Board President Jayson Wechter said after the meeting that he requested the 2022 misconduct report from the Department of Police Accountability out of personal interest and put it on the board’s agenda on Friday. As far as he was aware, this is the first time complaints against the Sheriff’s Office and related investigations had been made public.
The Department of Police Accountability upheld misconduct claims in five cases involving 20 different allegations against sheriff’s deputies, out of a total 12 cases.
That is a “sustained” rate of 42 percent, compared to a state-wide average of eight percent, according to the California Department of Justice. By comparison, the Department of Police Accountability found improper conduct in 61 of 858 Police Department misconduct cases it closed in 2021, or 7 percent. The number of Police Department cases is much larger because for police, the Department of Police Accountability looks at all cases, not just serious cases as it did with the Sheriff’s Office.
The allegations primarily concerned sheriffs failing to check on inmates in safety cells or inaccurately filling out safety cell observation sheets.
“Those are things that are maybe kind of clear-cut, in terms of the evidence,” said Wechter, insisting that this reporter explain that Wechter was voicing his own opinion, and not the view of the board. Surveillance cameras at jails and logs, for example, could make it much easier to determine whether a deputy did their job appropriately.
Two of the 20 allegations that the oversight department found improper in 2022 involved use of unnecessary force, and another involved inappropriate discipline.
Eventually, the board, which was approved by voters in 2020, will hire an inspector general with slightly more power: Investigating all complaints, subpoenaing information, and recommending — but not imposing — discipline.
“I’m just happy these are out in the public domain,” said Wechter. He intends to ask the Department of Police Accountability to provide summaries of the incidents for the board to review.
But, even if additional detail is provided on the 2022 findings, there will be little or no recourse for these misconduct cases. The one-year statute of limitations will likely have passed by the time the Office of Inspector General is created.
As to that process, a Department of Human Resources representative announced at Friday’s meeting that five of 37 applicants for the inspector general job meet the minimum qualifications and will proceed to the next steps of the recruitment process.