Jan. 12 2010 07:07 PM

Some serious allegations of misconduct against county officers are dismissed as arbitrary deadline passes


For the first time in its almost 20-year history, the board that investigates allegations of law-enforcement misconduct for the county will send letters to eight complainants telling them that their cases couldn't be investigated in time and, therefore, have been dismissed.

Despite a 29-percent increase in complaints in 2009 (135 versus 2008's 105), the budget for the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) was cut by 14 percent, said executive officer Carol Trujillo. Trujillo said she's been short an investigator since February, leaving just her, one investigator and a part-time secretary.

“It is very frustrating for us,” Trujillo said in an e-mail. “More importantly, it's a disservice to the individuals who brought complaints to the Review Board for investigation and are instead getting a letter saying we're sorry but time's up.”

According to California's Public Safety Officers' Procedural Bill of Rights, all investigations into peace-officer misconduct that could result in punishment must be completed within one year from the date the complaint is received. Even though CLERB only recommends to the Sheriff's Department what sort of punishment an officer should receive—it's up to the sheriff to determine the punishment, if any—county lawyers have advised Trujillo to stick to the one-year timeline. Their recommendations were based on court rulings involving other law-enforcement review boards. Any complaint that CLERB can't properly investigate within a year will be dismissed.

Some of the timed-out probes, briefly summarized in CLERB's Jan. 12 meeting agenda, are pretty serious: Threats made by a sheriff's deputy against a mentally handicapped county jail inmate; an illegal search of, and seizure of items from, a complaint's apartment by probation officers; and an allegation of excessive force by two deputies that resulted in the complainant losing consciousness. Trujillo said CLERB staff spent hours trying to close these cases, but simply ran out of time.

John Parker, CLERB's executive officer from 1997 to 2007, said he had to fight to get a second investigator added to his staff and, even then, “there were always cases that went beyond the year time limit”—2002, for instance, saw a record 229 complaints. In 2004, Parker was able to meet a goal of zeroing out a backlog of open investigations.

 “At the end of 2009, we had a backlog of 84 open cases that is getting older by the day,” Trujillo said. “Because of the increase, we needed to allocate more time to taking in new complaints than to completing existing investigations.”

CLERB's also had to cut its meetings back to six times a year rather than the usual 12 because of the backlog, something CityBeat reported in its Jan. 6 issue.

“Looking ahead, I expect to have one-year cases with staff recommendations to dismiss them because they are timed out on most, if not all, of our six agendas this year,” Trujillo said.

Calendar

  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28