Friday, April 17, 2015

Sheriff Hart Requests $47,925 to Fence Out Protesters from Santa Cruz County Jail

Sheriff Jim Hart is making an 'emergency requisition' in the amount of $47,925 to install a seven-foot tall, 364-foot long gated iron fence in order to close off the area of the Santa Cruz County Main Jail's parking lot that is most commonly used by community members for public assembly and political demonstrations. Hart has specifically stated that recent political demonstrations held at the jail are the reason for building the new fence. Due to the lack of a continuous sidewalk along the Blaine Street side of the jail, the installation of the fence will essentially push protesters on to the street if they want to continue to assemble on that side of the jail. The Sheriff's Department expenditure request has been placed on the consent agenda of the April 21 Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors meeting.

The proposed fence.

Sheriff Hart explains his justification for the necessity of the fence in the April 21 agenda report: ".....following and in conjunction with the Highway 17 demonstration and closure, protesters blocked the driveway from Blaine Street to the garage, requiring Sheriff's deputies to clear a path for an inmate transportation van returning with inmates from court appearances." 

"There have also been incidents within the last year wherein protesters walked to the garage doors, pounded on the doors, and caused disruption," Hart states.

For years, the Santa Cruz County Main Jail has been the location of political demonstrations, and two months ago the Board of Supervisors took a different action to limit movement around the main jail at the request of Sheriff Hart. At the February 10 meeting, board members unanimously voted to approve a trespassing ordinance that now makes it a misdemeanor to move within "designated security perimeters" around the exterior of the jail. The security perimeters were defined as being any area surrounding the jail that is fenced.

Community members voiced their strong opposition to the ordinance, and in response, Board members required the Sheriff's Department to specify, in a photo of the jail, exactly what locations outside of the jail would be considered the trespass zone under the new law. Before passing the ordinance, both the Sheriff and individual board members assured the public that the trespassing measure was not created to target peaceful political demonstrations.

Community members with the group Sin Barras and others unsuccessfully organized to oppose it. In speaking out against the trespassing ordinance, Sin Barras cited a statement made in the 2013-14 Santa Cruz County Grand Jury report that referenced a rally the group held at the jail in response to the deaths of multiple inmates at the facility.

"An April 6, 2013 protest march, organized by the Santa Cruz activist group Sin Barras, is an example of the community reaction to these deaths.[11] Other groups, such as the Good Samaritan Mobile Medics, the Santa Cruz 11, and the Homeless United for Friends and Freedom (HUFF) also participated in the march. After marching from the Town Clock tower to the Main Jail, multiple speakers spoke out against the in-custody deaths, conditions at the jail, and the CFMG [California Forensic Medical Group] outsourcing decision," the Grand Jury report stated.

Titled "Five Deaths in Santa Cruz: An Investigation of In-Custody Deaths," the report was released by the Grand Jury in May of 2014, and highlighted many breaches of jail protocol related to the care of the five inmates who died in the Santa Cruz main jail.

Since August of 2012, six people have died while in custody at the Santa Cruz County Main Jail.

At that April 6, 2013 demonstration at the jail, a large group of community members assembled in the area Sheriff Hart is presently requesting to fence off.

Demonstrators in the area of the jail to be fenced off. Photo from the April 6, 2013 rally.

Demonstrators in the area of the jail to be fenced off. Photo from the April 6, 2013 rally.

This area of the jail's parking lot would also be fenced off. Photo from the April 6, 2013 rally.

Community members use the area to protest a variety of issues. This demonstration was held on July 31, 2013 to support the California Prison Hunger Strikers who were seeking an end to solitary confinement.

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