Obscure Sheriff’s Review Board Gets New Scrutiny In Court
Speaker 1: 00:00 A little known board within the San Diego County Sheriff's department has come under scrutiny in federal court. The critical incident review board or curb looks at deputies use of force notably in cases resulting in deaths, one such in custody, death of a man suffering from schizophrenia prompted the federal lawsuit in which the secrecy of curb investigations is under attack voice of San Diego reporter Ashley McGlone investigated curve's role in this case. And she joins me now, Ashley, welcome to the program. We'll start with the critical incident review board. What is curbs role who's on the board? What does it Speaker 2: 00:36 It's comprised of five people. Four of them are high ranking commanders, one from each Bureau within the department. And then there's also the Sheriff's department's chief legal counsel. Who's a non-voting member. Um, and what they do, what they listed in their policy as their top priority is to discuss anticipated litigation, following use of force incidents, things like, you know, force that results in great bodily injury or death or officer involved shootings. Um, but they also do other things. They take a look at, um, investigations when there is a death, for instance, um, and decide whether those officers violate what it, whether they believe the officers violated policy or procedures and deserve actual possible discipline at the hands of internal affairs. So they get to decide whether those cases go to internal affairs often, and then they also sometimes can make broader recommendations for changes to policy or procedures based on specific incidents. Speaker 1: 01:26 And, uh, this curve board is completely separate from the citizens law enforcement review board, right? Speaker 2: 01:32 Correct. Yeah. This is an entirely internal board. Um, the citizen's review board is external and doesn't actually have any power over the Sheriff's department's decision-making this body internal has actually quite a lot of power. Um, and that's one of the values that the undersheriff told me it has is that these are high ranking commanders and they have the power to make changes that they see are needed. Following use of force incidents. Speaker 1: 01:55 Tell us briefly about the case of Paul Silva, whose mother called police for help during an emergency, what happened? Yeah, Speaker 2: 02:01 So in February, 2018, uh, Paul Silva's mother called San Diego police for assistance with her son's psychological breakdown. He was known to have suffered from schizophrenia. She told him that, um, but instead they dispatched, uh, police, not their psychological sort of specialty unit, but a normal patrol officers who responded to the scene and did a sobriety test and suspected he was under the influence of a controlled substance. So rather than taking him to sort of a mental health facility, they booked him in the downtown central County jail. Um, and where he remained there for 36 hours without medical treatment you're in tests would show that he was not under the influence of any controlled substances. He was just having a psychological breakdown. Um, but then things escalated into an altercation with officers who were trying to extract him from the jail again, 36 hours later. And it resulted in him falling unconscious and then dying in a coma a month later. Speaker 1: 02:56 Now this case was ruled a homicide that's of course, a death at the hands of others, but no deputy or other person involved was charged with a crime. What role did the critical incident review board play in this case? Speaker 2: 03:07 Right? So after the death, they received the initial internal homicide investigative report, and any evidence that was available, like there is video footage of this altercation that took place in his jail cell, they reviewed it and they made the decision to not refer the case to internal affairs, which again, that would be the body that could possibly meet out any kind of discipline for the officers involved to our knowledge. No other changes were made, but again, the actual report itself and the actual outcome beyond the decision to not send it to internal affairs remains under wraps for now Speaker 1: 03:39 And now Paul Silva's family has filed suit in federal court. What's their attorney requesting regarding the secret operation of Kirk, Speaker 2: 03:47 Right? So they actually are asking for three years worth of curve reports. They believe that there's been an environment fostered by curb and other, uh, internal mechanisms at the Sheriff's department that are supposed to be there for accountability, for officers that have instead failed in their mission and have perpetuated an environment where officers can act and kill with impunity. They point to a long list of in custody deaths and, and stats that show that San Diego County is in jail custody, death rates are, uh, exceed other large County jail systems. And so they want to see, okay, well, if this body exists to hold officers accountable, how often do they send these officers onward to disciplinary hearings? And how often do they sort of give them a pass? So that's what they're seeking at this time. Speaker 1: 04:31 And what is the response from leaders at the San Diego County Sheriff's office? Speaker 2: 04:35 They say these, these reports and these that they activity specific to this board need to stay confidential. And not only is, you know, the role of the attorney, inextricably linked with all of their activities. It actually is for the public good. Um, undersheriff Michael Barnett tells me it would be a disservice to make those reports public. Um, they say that the quality of the review that's done, uh, would, would worsen if they knew that those reports would be made public. When these meetings are held after a use of force incident like an in custody death, they want the unvarnished truth. They want people to be able to talk candidly about what happened without fear of it getting leaked or released to the media or any other person. Speaker 1: 05:13 You interviewed an attorney who represents families, filing wrongful death suits against the Sheriff's department, as well as the ACLU. What do they say about Sheriff's officials insisting that the workings of curb remained secret? Speaker 2: 05:24 They believe that the presence of the attorney on the board is essentially a smoke screen that much of its activities, the decisions to send the case to IAA are not, um, broader recommendations about policy or training changes. Those can all be done without an attorney. And so there is a place for an attorney to consult them for anticipated litigation, but these reviews happen with or without litigation. And these sorts of fact-finding discussions could also occur without an attorney present. And so to then have an attorney on the board and throw up the attorney client privilege over of its activities, they, they feel that that's just disingenuous in a ruse Speaker 1: 06:00 And the federal magistrate handling this issue and the Silva families' lawsuit what's he said about secrecy surrounding the critical incident review board Speaker 2: 06:10 At this point. So the County again was fighting to really release nothing, uh, to this family, through the discovery process in federal court about its curve activities beyond what sort of the manual says it does. Um, and the judge said, you know, know what cases go to curb? Um, that in and of itself is not automatically confidential because an attorney is on this board. Uh, so he has ordered, he has disagreed and, and rejected their attorney, client privilege claim over everything related to curb. And at this point he has said, you will produce a factual list of, uh, you know, short summaries of each case that has gone to per, uh, curb over this three-year timeframe. And sort of he'll take up any further discovery disputes, but potentially later this month, and he's not totally convinced or even, uh, fully understanding at this point, why the County has the curb set up exactly the way it does and what the role of the attorney is at every step of the way in their proceedings, Speaker 1: 07:06 The timetable here, when might the Silva suit and this a secrecy issue be resolved, right? Speaker 2: 07:11 So the, the judge handling the discovery dispute in this case said that he will take up lingering concerns as early as this month. Um, so he maybe would decide something this month or maybe early next year. Um, an actual trial date will, is not expected to be set until much later, maybe November of next year. Um, and then the trial itself may be not until 2022, um, but efforts to get this case dismissed outright by both the County and actually the city of San Diego, which is also being sued as a defendant since they were the police that made the arrest, um, and, and a medical group, uh, that had provided nurses to the jails. Uh, those efforts have been shot down. And so this case is proceeding as we speak Speaker 1: 07:48 Well, we'll see what happens with the followup on all of this. I've been speaking with reporter Ashley McLaughlin of voice of San Diego. Thanks very much. Thank you. Speaker 3: 08:03 [inaudible].