Tuesday, May 24, 2016

SF Sheriff: 76 In-Custody Deaths; 20 Blacks, 8 Suicides

Accountability of law enforcement agencies in San Francisco needs serious expansion and quickly too. It's is not enough to have only the police subject to the (minimal) oversight of the Police Commission and Office of Citizen Complaints, but at least those two limited mechanisms exist.

We need a new commission to process complaints and whatnot involving the Sheriff's Department and the District Attorney. Currently, if you want to complain to an outside party regarding the policies or personnel at those City agencies you're outta luck.

For example, I'd like to bring attention to the number of in-custody deaths either at facilities under the domain of the sheriff, eg, the county jails and courts, or where sheriff deputies guard inmates at local hospitals or otherwise at the hands of deputies.

My public records request to Sheriff Vicki Hennessy this week for data on all in-custody deaths stretching to whenever records were first kept on such fatalities, produced five-pages of responsive info. Let's go over the stats:

Years for which race data was omitted:

1994: 3
1995: 6
1996: 2
1997: 5
1998: 4
1999: 3
2000: 3
2001: 3
2002: 3
Sub-total = 41

Years for which race was included:

2004: 3
2005: 6
2006: 1
2007: 4
2008: 4
2009: 4
2010: 4
2011: 5
2012: 3
2013: 1
2014: 3
2015: 4
Subtotal = 35

Total = 76

Sheriff Hennessy's public info officer explains what was released:

"I have attached two documents responsive to your request: 'Death in Custody Cases 1994-Present' and 'Death in Custody Cases 2004 –Present'. The 1994-Present is for 1994 through 2003. The information during this time period covers name and date of incident.

"The 2004 – Present is for 2004 to present. This more current information includes DOB, age, race. The causes of death are health information and should be requested from the Medical Examiner’s Office. For 2010 – present, a notation is made for apparent suicide cases. The 'Charges' field has been redacted as it contains criminal history information."

From 2004-2015 the racial breakdown of the 35 deaths was as follows:

Asians: 4
Blacks: 20
Hispanics: 2
Whites: 15

The number of suicides during that period was 8. Over both periods, there were 6 deaths for females and 71 for males.

The 20 deaths for blacks out of 35 seems disproportionately high but, then again, blacks have higher rates of arrests and incarceration than other races in San Francisco.

Still, those 20 fatalities and all of these deaths while in sheriff's custody need to be part of the City's discussion about better policing and the larger context of law enforcement agencies and how they interact with civilians.

Here are the records released today, including the names of individuals:

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