OAKLAND, Calif. - Civil rights advocates joined family members who have lost loved ones inside Santa Rita Jail on Tuesday to demand an audit of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office following a KTVU investigation showing the Dublin facility has a higher jail death rate per capita than Los Angeles, the nation's largest jail system.
Organized by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, jail reform advocates again implored the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to issue a full, independent audit of the sheriff's office to bring transparency and accountability. The organization has called for such an audit for nearly two years.
Board President Richard Valle's spokesman has previously told KTVU that the board would not consider such an audit until a smaller one, called Results First, was conducted and reviewed. The results of that audit have not yet been made public, although the board is expected to discuss this issue Tuesday on a special retreat, according to the agenda. The county-sponsored audit aimed to look at recidivism reduction strategies, alternatives to custody and a program budget analysis, among other things. Ella Baker senior organizer Jose Bernal has repeatedly said that his organization wants the audit to be conducted by an outsider and to examine more than the topics covered in the county audit.
"A full and independent audit of the ACSO would provide an opportunity for our county officials to reallocate resources toward services that improve our health and wellbeing, and ensure our safety," the Ella Baker Center said on its Audit Ahern web page.
In previous interviews, Sheriff Greg Ahern's spokesman, Sgt. Ray Kelly, said the office welcomes an audit; in fact, such a review would likely show that the jails need more money, mostly to provide better mental health care.
The civil rights advocates, however, say it appears as though the sheriff has enough money. The sheriff's budget has grown $144 million in the last decade, totalling $443 million this year, while the jail population has decreased. Kelly said the money just isn't enough. In a prior interview, he said the sheriff starts every year "$20 million in the hole."
The Ella Baker Center focused Tuesday's rally on last month's 2 Investigates report that showed that at least 41 in-custody deaths have occurred inside Santa Rita Jail - including Dujuan Armstrong, one of three inmates who died after being physically restrained in a WRAP, and Paul Lee, who died from an apparent medical emergency in January 2018.
"Where is the money going?" asked Barbara Doss, Armstrong's mother. "The sheriff is getting away with so many things."
2 Investigates also revealed that of those inmate deaths, 14 were suicides and 11 of those inmates were kept in some form of isolation.
Despite these "alarming number of in-custody deaths," the Ella Baker Center pointed out that the Alameda County Supervisors has continued to increase Sheriff Ahern's budget each year.
KTVU's Sara Zendehnam contributed to this report.