Sunday, December 4, 2011

Monterey County Sheriffs is "Just Another Gang"

The following is something I wrote up during a run-in with the Monterey County Sheriff's department this past summer, it was suppose to be an op ed for the Salinas Californian, but the editor denied it, I'll get into that in a later post . . .

I’ve never really been in trouble with the law or had an altercation with officers. Usually when I’ve been pulled over, they have been respectful and I’ve been respectful to them in return, there has been one or two with a rude attitude here and there, but I’ve shrugged it off, we all have bad days after all.
But for the past year my family has been visiting the Monterey County Jail because I have a brother incarcerated there. And over the past year I’ve been hearing about the rude behavior displayed by some of the deputies and personnel that is left in charge on any given day. I have been home for summer vacation visiting family, and doing research, so on Saturdays I would head to the jail with my family to visit my brother, and up until last week I hadn’t experienced any rude or threatening attitudes from the deputies registering people.
But it’s more than rude attitudes; they have taken privileges with the time at which they release the inmates for visitations. So if the inmates are suppose to be at their visitation stalls by 8pm they might not be allowed out until 8:15pm or later sometimes. What occurs then is that the deputies or sheriff’s take them back at 9pm even if they were suppose to allow them one full hour of visitation. But again, I had personally not experienced any problems until last weekend (8/13), upon entering to register, the deputy took a rude tone with me, and again, I smiled and shrugged it off, we’re all entitled to bad days.
            After my visitation, an incident arose where my mother wasn’t being allowed to enter for her visitation. Apparently these were the rules, we had an exchange with the deputy, and then she went to complain at the office window, where the sheriff in charge (he will be referred to as Sheriff 1) that night and the secretary were sitting while my mother tried to explain the situation. By that time I was heated because of the deputy who had been rude to me and I perceived to be rude to my mother. Sheriff 1 walked up to the window and upon seeing my mother said something along the lines of “Hey I see you here often,” (over the past year my mother has often gone to complain about the deputies due to their attitude, the cutting of visiting hours, or misinformation).  In my irate mood I said something along the lines of “Then why the f--- haven’t things changed?!” At the moment I thought Sheriff 1 was disrespecting my mother because she complained often of the issues with some of the deputies. Sheriff 1 apparently didn’t like the tone that I took with him (Well what do you know? He didn’t like being disrespected just like we didn’t and don’t like it either), he told me not to move because he wanted to “talk” with me, at which point he came out from behind the window to confront me, not “talk.”
As I’ve thought back more on the incident over the past week I’ve wondered why did he feel the need to walk out from behind the window? Why didn’t he try voicing his distaste to my language or his feelings of anger toward me from behind the window? Why try to confront me? Did he really think I was going to run out the door scared like a dog with my tail between my legs? Or did He think I would cower as he got in my face? But things became clear as he said under his breath “If I weren’t in uniform I would handle this differently.” I realized a couple of things after he made that statement, not only did he feel his authority challenged by the way I spoke to him, but if he felt it necessary to walk out from behind his window, is it possible that he also felt his manhood challenged once he saw that I wasn’t backing down? Because once in my face, we exchanged words, nothing too unflattering, just loudly explaining to one another what we were thinking, he in regard to my swearing and me in regards to what I thought was a comment of disrespect to my mother.
            Regardless, Sheriff  #1 was not having it and told me to leave so he could speak to my mother alone, by this time one of his fellow sheriffs (we’ll refer to him as Sheriff #2) came out to support him and suggested I step outside the waiting room. I refused because I didn’t want to leave my mother alone with Sheriff 1 who had already been hostile toward me, so how I was I to know he wouldn’t be hostile toward my mother? Plus I was fed up with the treatment that my mother and other visitors received as well. I was told to place my hands behind my back, I didn’t resist, and then I was cuffed and searched. People were trying to come in to the waiting room, but Sheriff 1 would kick them out, leaving me, him and sheriff #2 alone, until eventually Sheriff 1 stepped out to speak with my mother, trying to get her away from the waiting room. Another sheriff (we’ll refer to him as Sheriff #3) stepped into the waiting room and did a pat down search. Sheriff #2 took my wallet and ran it for warrants and what not. By the time he came back Sheriff #1 had told sheriff #3 to take the cuffs off me. Hey no warrants, no weapons on my person, no reason to detain me right? Then why put cuffs on me at all and threaten to arrest me? This is where it gets interesting.
            As we’re walking out of the waiting room the Sheriff #1 and his pack lead me to a secluded room and he says we need to “talk” (again). The other “talk” hadn’t gone so well, so why were we going to talk now? I’m led to a large concrete room with a single table and chair. I take a seat and sheriff #1 “talks” to me about how he would never disrespect somebody’s mother, so basically trying to explain to me how I’m in the wrong. I hear him out and am able to admit that maybe I jumped the gun and insulted him, but I had heard about the treatment being doled out to visitors. He talked about how their job wasn’t easy and they weren’t perfect, and then he went on to take a verbal shot at me by saying “If anything you disrespected your mother by cussing in front her, I don’t even cuss in front of my mom!” You see what he did there? In other words this wasn’t a “talk,” this was him being able to vent and take verbal shots at me, either to get a rise out of me, or because he didn’t get a chance to say everything he really wanted to say to me when we were “talking” over one another in the waiting room.
I brought up the fact that he threatened me, by saying he wished he could “take off his badge and handle” me. Which was an incorrect statement on my part, because again, what he really said was that he would handle the situation differently if he weren’t in uniform. You know, I have to applaud him for that statement though, it’s not everyday that you have an officer of the law willing to handle a situation out of uniform when it simply had to do with his authority, power or manhood being challenged. Most officers would have stayed in uniform and assaulted me because that’s the safe bet, you can use your batons, fists, boots, even guns on a “perp,” and if they hit you back in self defense or even raise their hands and arms to protect themselves, you can always yell a lie to the judge- “Assaulting a police officer!” But not sheriff #1, and for that I give him all my respect, because it takes a big man to handle things out of uniform.
            Another shot sheriff #1 took at me was when he said “I don’t know how you do things in Michigan but that’s not how we do things here” (one of my identification cards showed that I’m a student at MSU). Well I’m not sure he understood, but I was born and raised in Watsonville and Las Lomas, so I’m used to the way things are done here. And even in Michigan, when an officer of the “peace” feels his authority, power, or manhood threatened he’s more than happy to take advantage of the perks that come with his uniform and badge.
After he took his shots at me, he asked if I had any questions, and I asked “Why did you put the handcuffs on me?” Because they had been threatening to arrest me, but for what? For being angry and speaking up? Well this is where sheriff #2 chimed in and said “X you were threatening. You’re a big guy.” I was being threatening? How by dropping the F-Bomb? So no freedom of speech is allowed to visitors on jail grounds? Or was being a big guy enough? But wow I thought ex-cons were good liars. But his excuse or lie didn’t surprise me I figured they would try to say something about me being hostile, because I refused to “talk” on their terms. As I kept questioning and challenging what was being said (again I’m in a secluded room with all three of them, no witnesses, and I’m sure they asked many of the people to stay away from the room, my mother included) Sheriff #2 said “You know you’re really starting to piss me off! I don’t think you understand, we’re the sheriffs, we run things here.” Aha! So again the issue was the power and the authority. Another one of Sheriff #2’s gems was “You know Felix, you think you’re smarter than you really are.” Apparently he wasn’t impressed with the fact that I attend MSU, not that I could hold it against him, I’m not impressed with the school either. He was right though I’m not smart, I’m pretty damn stupid, because I allowed myself to be taken to a secluded room with the three of them, with no witnesses, and they had taken the cuffs off of me. It would have been my word against theirs in a court, and who do you think a judge in Monterey County would have favored?
Why is being out of handcuffs important? Have you ever heard of the deputies who cried wolf? There have been a couple of incidents, at least one documented (Google: Dr. B. Cayenne Bird) and one that I heard about, where deputies will yell “stop resisting!” Or “get your hands off of me!” even when an inmate or civilian isn’t doing either. What’s the point of this? It allows the sheriffs to rough up the inmate or civilian with no questions asked, not only that but other deputies will get in on the action too as they rush in to assist their fellow officer possibly without knowing, just wanting to assist in detaining the person.
So again, Sheriff #2 was right I’m not smart I’m a stupid man for entering that room with them, out of cuffs, to “talk”, and as I’ve thought more about the incident, the questions keep coming, why not talk to me in the waiting room or outside? Why this room away from everybody? Heck in the waiting room they could have kicked people out, they had already done that once. They gave me no explanation when they led me to that room, but now I wonder what would have occurred if I would have said that I did not consent to being taken to that room and would rather talk in the waiting room or maybe outside, what would they have said or done? Would it have been taken as a challenge again to their authority and power again? Would they have used it as an excuse to arrest me and say I was in some way resisting arrest? But again resisting arrest in regards to what? What was my crime? If they wanted to argue that I was a threat as the “big guy,” why not keep me in cuffs while they transferred me from one room to the next? If I’m such a threat wouldn’t common sense tell you as a sheriff that I should stay in cuffs because you never know what the “big guy” can do?
Regardless, Sheriff #2 kept talking, “X, Sheriff #1 is my partner, I’m going to have his back no matter what.” Sheriff #2 just didn’t seem to know when to be quiet, because I thought Sheriff #1 was the one that wanted to talk to me, but he kept cutting in, trying come off as threatening, but yet I was the big threatening guy. Nonetheless when he made that statement it became clear to me that what he meant was that he would corroborate whatever the sheriff wanted to say or do about the incident, possibly even if it was lie, the “Khaki Wall of Silence” anybody? The whole time sheriff #3 said nothing, but then again he didn’t know what it meant to be detained in the sense that they just put the cuffs on me to scare me and not because they had a valid reason, unless the “big threatening guy” thing is to be believed or valid in a court of law. But it also made me wonder did Sheriff #3 feel the same way? Would he corroborate whatever his Sheriff #1 said even if it was a lie, even if he came out late and didn’t see how the incident even developed? And when I didn’t let up Sheriff #2 kept threatening that I would be arrested and spend the night in jail and I would have to talk to the judge and not go back to MSU. Sheriff #1 kept saying they were trying to let me go, but I was making it difficult! See what they’re doing there? It’s the old good cop/bad cop shtick and pouring on the scare tactics. Except it was hard to tell which was the good cop, because both kept raising their voices. I pointed out that they’re the ones that said we needed to “talk” so I thought that’s what we were doing, talking, but nope, we weren’t talking in the traditional sense, where we engage in an open dialogue, they wanted to dominate the conversation, and force me to listen, and make me feel guilty about something and/or intimidated.
If they really wanted to let me go to be rid of me, they would have allowed me to walk away after removing the cuffs without needing to “talk.” But they chose to take me to the secluded room with no witnesses save themselves to corroborate one another’s tall tales. I think it’s important to also note that that this secluded room is where my mother was brought once for complaining about something as well, except she was surrounded by more than three officers, and she still remembers them tapping their fingers on their guns, but from what I understand their scare tactics didn’t work because she continues to be more than willing to bring up any issues she has to their attention. But it also makes me wonder, would they be more prone to assaulting me as a male, because assaulting a woman in a secluded area is a whole other scenario. Me, I was probably profiled as a local delinquent from the start, due to my loose clothes, my goatee, and my backwards baseball cap, so they might not have had to feel the need to hold back if they really wanted to assault me physically, but more than anything it feels like that’s why the cuffs were off, and that’s why they insisted on shouting, if I shouted back it could have been considered hostile, and if I used my hands a lot when I was speaking it could have been considered an attack, which in turn would give them (in their eyes and minds) the right to take me down as hard as they’d like to before inserting me into a jail cell for the night. I would have liked to have seen how that would have played out in a court house, what was the report going to say? “Your honor the charges are he’s a big guy, we were afraid he would hulk out and try to smash us, and he also did what you’re suppose to do when we tell someone we want to talk to them in a secluded room without witnesses, he actually tried to talk with us.”
      It’s hard to not get into the "what if’s" of the whole thing. What if this “talk” became a physical and verbal assault on me? What if they roughed me up? What if this rough up left me paralyzed, maybe even dead? Would the courts believe that a college kid without a record, with no previous confrontations with law enforcement, had it coming and was such a big threatening guy that it would have prompted 3 sheriffs “who run the place” to use excessive force? Would the visitors corroborate their story too and say that the big threatening guy was being a troublemaker? Would they even speak up out of fear of retaliation during their visiting hour? Would they even care? That’s the thing about “what if’s,” they only remain that way until they become a reality (google: Police Brutility or better yet google: Abner Louima).
Luckily the sheriffs didn’t rough me up, other than the verbal threats. They kept threatening to arrest me, I’m not sure on what charges or for how long. Maybe just over night to scare me, but I’m guessing that would be violating some of my civil rights. Not only that but taking me into that secluded room without asking me if I consented or even holding me over night without formal charges, wouldn’t that have made me their hostage? I thought that only happened in the Middle East or South of the border.
In hindsight the incident allowed me to walk away with a renewed passion and interest for a degree in civil law, because it’s incidents like these that need to be stopped or at least spotlighted, because the symbiotic relationship between the uniform and the person wearing it leads to an obvious abuse of power. In no way is this meant to categorize all the people wearing the uniform as abusive, because as mentioned most of my run ins with the law have not been bad. But there is something unsettling occurring at Monterey County Jail where the visitors (mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, etc.) are being treated as if they are inmates, the only difference is that they get to go home after that hour is up, well, maybe, just don’t speak up or you might be considered a threat and possibly arrested.
What would visitors need to do? Because this isn’t only the fault of the sheriffs, if visitors aren’t holding the people running the asylum accountable, doesn’t that make them less victims and more perpetrators of the abuse of power and authority? Or should the visitors just start showing up with lawyers so that they aren’t taken to that secluded room when a sheriff or deputy feels threatened because somebody complained about the fact that visitations were cut short? It is just as much the fault of those visitors who stay quiet and never say anything and allow themselves to be disrespected or those who expect the rest of us to stick up for them. Yet they come looking for advice when mistreated, but run away and hide or bow their heads in obedience so as to not defy the badge and uniform. It’s very much a defeatist attitude, where even my incarcerated brother told me not to complain, not to say anything, because “nobody in the jail changes anything, everything stays the same when you complain anyway, so it doesn’t matter.” Now that right there is just really disappointing. But I don’t think my brother has stopped to think that we as visitors still have certain rights even if we are on the grounds of an institution being run by people who are suppose to “SERVE and PROTECT” us, NOT “HARRASS and THREATEN” us when all we’re trying to do is visit. And if any of those deputies or sheriffs just doesn’t really like the serving aspect of their job, why even work? If they hate their job so much why not just quit? Aren’t we always told if you hate your job, leave and do something else more gratifying? Unless they’re going to tell us that hiding behind a badge and uniform to abuse their power and authority on jail grounds during visiting night is where they find their enjoyment. And who knows maybe it’s just Monterey County, because I’ve gone to the court house there too, and there’s a Bailiff there who also takes liberties with his power and authority, running the court room to the point that it makes me think he might even yell at the judge he’s serving under if she so much as looks at him the wrong way. And when people complain to him, he threatens to not let anybody in the courtroom for that day. Really? But he gets away with it, because there’s only so much the people can complain about, and if the judges don’t care how the citizens are treated or that they’re having their rights violated by bailiffs indulging in the gluttony of their power then who is suppose to do anything? Will going through the proper channels even work?
My punishment for “talking” with the sheriffs is to not be allowed to set foot on the premises of the jail for 6 months. I haven’t received an official letter yet, but I’m looking forward to reading the line that says I’m not allowed on the premises because I’m a “threatening big guy.” What it won’t say though, is what it’s really about, it is retaliation for holding my ground, and not backing down when the sheriff said he wanted to “talk,” but he should have pointed out the fine print for me, he wanted to “talk” on Monterey County Sheriffs terms, because at the fact remains, he said he wanted me stay where I was, so he could “talk” to me, but he walked out form behind the window to get confrontational with me, and try to intimidate me. Now I’m wondering if any of the complaints voiced by the visitors have been filed formally, because I know that there are specific deputies that hate being courteous to visitors on a regular basis, but have the people in charge spoken to their men/women? I doubt it I get the feeling the complaints are filed away mentally then they all sit around behind closed doors and laugh at the visitors who complain, because nobody is really there to hold them accountable even if some visitors do try. As a matter of fact Sheriff #2 at one time tried to withhold visitations from happening one week when a couple of visitors complained. His exact threat was that “maybe he just wouldn’t let the inmates out that night at all.” Eventually he did, but he waited so long that some of the visitors left, except the two who complained. What gave him the right? The badge and uniform apparently. Although not physical, isn’t this a form of brutality as well? Or do we forget that power can abused on many different levels purposely to hurt others? 
As long as we as citizens keep letting things like this slide we’re very much at fault even if we want to hold it against the officers, because they can always just say they’re doing their jobs, but to sound cliché, who watches the watchmen if not us?
But recently there have been sheriffs who try to harass people in my neighborhood, and when they are asked for their badge numbers they get alzheimers and forget their badge numbers or they lose cards with their information. How does this happen? I thought it was one of our rights as citizens to ask for this information, but now why are they refusing to give it to us? Which makes me wonder now as well, when we do complain, are our complaints heard, are the deputies reprimanded or written up? Is any of this documented or are we the citizens just laughed at behind our backs as soon as we walk out the door?
Even inmates have an abysmal attitude when saying – “don’t say anything, nothing is ever going to change they don’t tell them anything, they keep doing it anyway.” 
But I really as a person can’t stand it when someone abuses their power and authority and takes advantage of those that aren’t well informed or those who already have an overbearing fear of the badge and uniform, especially the visitors trying to get in to see their relatives for that one hour, once a week. 

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