.Anti-Mandate Group Tipped Press Democrat to Health Officer’s Charges

A Sonoma County anti-vaccine mandate group, Save Our Sonoma, took credit for tipping the Press Democrat off to Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase’s July 2021 reckless driving conviction. 

The tip led to a Feb. 18 Press Democrat story which in turn kicked off a media-fueled debate about whether Mase is fit for public office. Meanwhile, in newsletters, SOS has been urging members to call on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to end Mase’s employment at a Tuesday, March 1 meeting. 

The public saga started when the Press Democrat first revealed that, in December 2020, Mase was arrested after driving erratically in Alameda County, where she lives. Mase told the Press Democrat that she had been socializing with a friend and “misjudged my sobriety.” She was found to have a 0.14 blood-alcohol level, significantly in excess of the legal driving limit. In July 2021, Mase pled no contest to a charge of misdemeanor reckless driving with alcohol involved. She was sentenced to a year of probation and received a $530 fine. 

Mase was previously arrested in San Diego in 2014 on suspicion of a DUI but received a relatively light punishment for the 2020 offense because of the Alameda County District Attorney’s pandemic sentencing policy, according to the Press Democrat

The Press Democrat’s original story did not mention how the 2020 incident came to the newspaper’s attention fourteen months after the fact. However, in a newsletter sent the day after the story broke, SOS, which claims to have about 2,200 members, took credit for providing the information to the newspaper. 

The Feb. 19 newsletter to SOS members is titled “Mase is outta here” and leads with an item labeled “SHE’S GOING DOWN!!”

“A small S.O.S team worked on this story all week and leaked it to the PD on Thursday morning. Read here about Mase’s 12/2/20 DUI, how her colleagues were shocked and how things aren’t looking good for Dr. Mase… We are working the press to get this information circulated! The County is not done with us yet!,” states the newsletter, which was provided to the Bohemian by a subscriber to the group’s mailing list. 

An SOS member named Greg, who refused to give his last name for fear of being targeted, told the Bohemian on Monday that an SOS member called the Press Democrat and anonymously provided information about Mase’s police record to the paper in order to foster government transparency.

The group’s recent newsletters show that they are busy organizing events related to vaccine and mask regulations. The Feb. 19 SOS newsletter invited “Freedom Fighters” to “SHOW YOUR SUPPORT. STOP the mask mandates, vax passports, and silencing of our doctors…” at a Feb. 26 demonstration on a Santa Rosa freeway overpass.

The timeline SOS provided in its Feb. 19 newsletter—tipping the paper off on Thursday morning—roughly fits with an article published by the Press Democrat’s top editor Rick Green on Tuesday, Feb. 22. Responding to criticism of the paper’s decision to publish the news article eight months after Mase reached a plea deal, Green wrote, “An anonymous tipster late Thursday flagged our newsroom to the incident.” 

Since the news broke, Mase has repeatedly apologized for her judgment and said that she wants to continue leading the county’s Covid-19 efforts.

“I do not believe this incident has interfered in any way with my ability to do my job, nor will it. I have expressed my regrets and apologies for what happened, and I stand by that statement. Otherwise, I’m maintaining my focus on the work at hand, which concerns limiting the impacts of COVID on our community and getting people vaccinated and boosted,” Mase told the Press Democrat in a Feb. 22 article.

Through a county spokesman, Mase and Tina Rivera, director of the county’s Health Services department, declined to comment on Monday.

Meanwhile, SOS has been turning the pressure up ahead of the Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday meeting.

A Feb. 23 SOS newsletter states “The time has come to ask for her [Mase’s] immediate resignation, or swiftly remove her.”

SOS members are asked to contact the Board of Supervisors and Mase’s supervisor, Tina Rivera, “about the need to terminate Mase.” The group also organized a Feb. 27 Zoom meeting to prepare for the Tuesday meeting.  

In the Feb. 23 newsletter, the group’s reasoning for Mase’s removal is largely pinned on speculation that her two DUIs revealed by the Press Democrat might be signs of a more serious alcohol problem that would affect her ability to do her job. Greg, the SOS member, made similar arguments in a phone interview. 

“Even a mild to moderate drinking problem can adversely affect cognitive functioning, problem-solving skills, concentration and reaction times—is this the behavior we should expect from our top health official?” the newsletter states in part.

However, to date, SOS nor the Press Democrat have published any direct evidence that the December 2020 incident—or any other alcohol-related event—have impacted Mase’s job performance.

For their part, some residents and employees of Sonoma County have organized in support of Mase’s handling of the pandemic. In a Feb. 23 letter, 151 signatories, many of whom identify themselves as medical professionals, called on the Board of Supervisors to continue supporting Mase, noting that, “Dr. Mase’s leadership has led Sonoma County to achieve a 55% lower death rate (95 deaths/100,000 [resident]) than the already-low average California death rate!”

The letter also criticizes the Press Democrat’s handling of the story: “The article published [in print] by the Press Democrat on Saturday, February 20, 2022 regarding an incident that occurred 14 months ago was unbalanced and oddly timed. The DUI was a serious personal issue that Dr. Mase dealt with prior to the article being released; it is unfortunate that she’s being asked to relive and apologize for this issue once again.”

In response to a request for comment, Green, the editor of the Press Democrat, declined to identify the paper’s anonymous source and referred the Bohemian to his Feb. 22 article outlining his reasoning for pursuing the Mase story.

Mase’s future with the county may be determined at a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, when the group is expected to discuss Mase’s DUI—and, no doubt, the media storm surrounding it—as part of Mase’s regularly-scheduled Covid-19 update.

In recent weeks, mask mandates have been significantly weakened around the state as the medical establishment starts to phase in an “endemic” approach to handling Covid-19. Currently, vaccinated people are not required to wear masks in most indoor settings in Sonoma County, excluding schools, public transit and medical facilities. 

Although unvaccinated people are technically required to continue masking, many businesses are not rigorously checking vaccine status. Beginning on March 11, schools will no longer require students and staff to wear masks, the Sonoma County Office of Education announced on Monday.

Will Carruthershttp://www.wrcarruthers.com
Will Carruthers is the news editor of the Pacific Sun and North Bay Bohemian. Email tips to [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Carruthers_W.
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