47 Alameda County sheriff's deputies deemed unsuitable 'did nothing wrong'

An Alameda County sheriff's captain wrote a memo telling his employees that the 47 deputies who were relieved of their law enforcement duties last week have "done nothing wrong" adding that they have done "great work" for the office and for the community.

The captain also added that there "are no further notifications to be made." 

KTVU obtained a copy of this memo sent Monday to all Santa Rita Jail staff. KTVU also redacted the captain's name.

But community groups and the public defender don't see it this way. 

Jose Bernal, organizing director at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights – a frequent critic of the sheriff, pointed out that the agency "chose to turn a blind eye at the expense of the general public and incarcerated individuals. This is horrifying, absolutely horrifying."

He added: "It's hard to shock my conscience anymore with all the atrocities that I"ve seen at Santa Rita Jail, but this really takes it over the top."

In addition, Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods said he's asked for the names of the 47 deputies involved.

"If they're not properly hired and not properly fit to do their jobs, we can't trust them to do those things," Woods said. "We can't rely on anything they've said."

Woods said his public defenders need to be able to go back and look at the cases they've been involved in, and see if they provided any sort of testimony or were critically involved in the case. 

"If they were, then those cases really be should be dismissed, or reversed," Woods said.

At issue is a letter sent Friday by outgoing Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern to 47 deputies – 5% of the sworn force  – that they could no longer arrest people, work in the jail or carry a firearm because they received a D, or a "not suitable" result on their psychological exam – and yet were hired anyway.  KTVU first reported this revelation on Monday.

The Sheriff's Office audited its new employee hires dating back to 2016 – an audit that was triggered by Deputy Devin Williams Jr., who allegedly killing a man and wife in Dublin earlier this month.

Four sources told KTVU that Williams had failed his psychological exam. 

Williams did not pass the probationary period when he applied for a job with the Stockton police, but was hired by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office in September 2021. 

The 47 deputies will retain their pay and benefits, Ahern wrote, as he seeks a second psychological exam for them at an undetermined date. One deputy has since been reinstated.

Candidates are given a multiple choice exam to determine the psychological fitness of a candidate to "protect public safety" and ensure that law enforcement hires are "free from any mental condition, including bias against race or ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, disability or sexual orientation that might adversely affect" their exercise of power. The test also tries to ensure that the candidate is "capable of withstanding the psychological demands of the position." 

The test assesses behaviors such as integrity, maturity and control, dependability, attention to detail, leadership, flexibility, teamwork and initiative, to name a few attributes. The test also seeks to uncover "counterproductive work behaviors," such as substance abuse, anxiety, depression and anger issues.  

KTVU has reached out to POST, which conducts these exams, to determine if this process is the proper one. POST stands for the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. 

In the memo, the captain reiterated that the sheriff and the union are "hopeful this sensitive matter will be rectified and all deputies' peace officer powers will be reinstated." 

For now, however, the captain reminded the staff that these deputies will be working for the office in a "limited capacity," meaning they will also not be in uniform or have contact with anyone incarcerated in jail. 

Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Ray Kelly said that of the 47 deputies, 30 deputies work in the jail. There are a total of 500 deputies who work at the jail. 

Kara Janssen, an attorney who is helping to supervise the consent decree over certain aspects of the Santa Rita Jail, told KTVU that she found this issue "deeply concerning."

Her firm, which has oversight powers over how mentally ill inmates are treated, was never told about the unsatisfactory letters; she was alerted over the weekend by KTVU.

In addition, she noted how stressed the department will be with nearly 50 less badged employees being able to perform their normal duties; other deputies will now have to pick up the slack working even more overtime. Since 2014, 59 people have died in custody at Santa Rita Jail. 

Ahern lost the June election to Yesenia Sanchez, a political newcomer in a stunning upset. 

He leaves office in January. 

KTVU's Henry Lee contributed to this report. 

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@fox.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez