RIVERSIDE (CNS) – At odds over the best way to proceed and concerned about overreaching into Riverside County sheriff’s operations, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday declined to act on a proposal seeking a comprehensive review of law enforcement tactics, but a majority of the board did support a resolution condemning the death of George Floyd.
Board Chairman Manuel Perez brought forward dual motions — one seeking the board to direct that Sheriff Chad Bianco cooperate with the Executive Office in a review of deputies’ arrest and use-of-force procedures, and the other declaring the board’s abhorrence at what happened to Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
“His final words, `I can’t breathe,’ were a rallying cry, a cry for justice,” Perez said. “This resolution is for all those who have unfortunately died as a result of police brutality. This demonstrates that we care, and we will not tolerate this.”
The resolution states the board’s support for “criminal charges, convictions and sentencing against all four” police officers implicated in Floyd’s death.
Numerous protests in Riverside and cities throughout the country have erupted in the wake of what happened to the 46-year-old man. Officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and Derek Chauvin were dismissed because of what has been alleged by Hennepin County authorities as excessive force and a deliberate act of violence. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder. His ex-colleagues are charged with aiding and abetting manslaughter.
Perez’s proclamation calls for “systemic changes that address the decades of institutional racism and inequality across our nation.”
Supervisor Chuck Washington lauded the act, saying there had been an obvious “abuse of authority” in the Minneapolis arrest, and that those responsible “should be held accountable.”
Supervisor Karen Spiegel recognized that “Floyd’s death was senseless and avoidable,” but she worried that the resolution was causing the board to stray from its immediate priorities, and she cast the sole dissenting vote against it.
Supervisor Jeff Hewitt was prepared to support the resolution in a modified format, seeking to add language from Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a Libertarian, who has a proposal before Congress that would end the practice of “qualified immunity.”
Under the doctrine, law enforcement officers are sometimes granted protections for actions under color of law that no civilian would be allowed to commit with impunity.
Washington argued the addition to the resolution was inappropriate at the last minute, and Perez appeared to agree, while Supervisor Kevin Jeffries felt comfortable either way. The vote was 3-1 in favor of the proposal, with Hewitt abstaining because his amendment was dropped.
On the matter of reviewing sheriff’s tactics, Perez said he was trying to pave the way for “dialogues” about race relations, community policing, how deputies interact with different communities and whether use-of-force procedures were overdue for revision.
“It’s not about our sheriff. I’m not pointing fingers,” the chairman said. “This is about how we can come together and figure things out.”
Bianco expressed opposition to the proposal, along with Riverside Sheriffs’ Association President Bill Young, both of whom felt it was an idea without justification.
“I am probably the most accessible (elected) person in the county,” Bianco told the board. “I have no secrets. I’m not blocking anything. Politics is killing our country, and this is an example. We have overhauled all of our policy manuals, some of which were from the 1980s. It’s transparent for all of you to see. This proposal (by the chairman) implies we’re doing something wrong. Is anybody perfect? Absolutely not. But the transparency of me and the department cannot be questioned.”
Young said Perez’s proposal had been “thrown into the public” without soliciting opinions or doing research and had all the appearances of a “political maneuver to gain favor in the eye of the public.”
“It’s hard to believe you would cast a bad light on law enforcement and want to attack them,” the union president said. “Law enforcement is often blamed as a scapegoat. We don’t feel this is the time for this. We don’t have any policies that are being violated or need to be addressed.”
Washington expressed the need for a forum to address “systemic racism in America,” and he discerned Perez’s proposal as a potential starting point, but the balance of the board did not share the view.
“There are lots of mechanisms that provide oversight of law enforcement in California,” Spiegel said. “I’m a little challenged on why this is coming forward without first reaching out to the sheriff.”
Spiegel said she had personally read almost the entire 369-page sheriff’s tactics manual on the agency’s website. The procedures specifically prohibit “chokeholds and strangleholds” similar to what triggered Floyd’s death, she said.
Hewitt acknowledged “issues” with law enforcement actions in the past, but he did not believe Perez’s concept was going to accomplish anything.
Jeffries noted that the Sheriff’s Department has a disproportionately high number of lawsuits that have bled tens of millions of dollars out of the county since he took his seat representing the First District in 2013, but he was confident Bianco was already “making changes.”
“I am not going to second-guess the actions of deputies at critical times,” the supervisor said. “I think we need to take a breath, let things settle down and figure out where we need to go.”
Perez persisted that “the moment is now” for a review of sheriff’s operations, and Washington suggested that Bianco at least be required to meet with Executive Office staff for a point-by-point discussion of tactics — which the sheriff called “a waste of time.”
“There is not anything that I am not prepared to share with anyone,” he said, indicating that he will form a citizen’s review committee — “without politicians” — to scrutinize sheriff’s operations and take input from residents.
Further information about the committee is expected to be released on July 7.