Sonoma County announced this week that it’s poised to hire Karlene Navarro, a Petaluma defense attorney, to take over as director of the county police-accountability office, the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach. San Francisco attorney Jerry Threet left the post at the end of February.
Navarro is scheduled to appear before the Sonoma County Supervisors on their March 12 meeting for their approval.
It remains to be seen whether they’ll ask her about her husband, a former prosecutor in Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch’s office at the time Ravitch exonerated the SCSO officer whose actions helped give rise to the IOLERO.
Sonoma County Supervisor and board chairman David Rabbitt said of the Navarro hire in the Press Democrat today: “We are confident that Ms. Navarro has the qualifications, background and integrity to carry out the difficult responsibilities of this position which the public rightfully deserves.” Rabbit’s district includes Petaluma. The story did not mention Navarro’s husband.
Christopher Honigsberg, was, until recently, a Sonoma County Assistant District Attorney until he was posted to a Sonoma Superior Court judgeship last February by former Gov. Jerry Brown, according to a Press Democrat report from February of 2018 that identifies Honigsberg as the husband of Karlene Navarro.
Honigsberg was hired by the Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch in 2009, and she sang his praises to the PD upon his 2018 departure: “I think it’s an outstanding appointment. It’s a loss for our office but a real win for the county at large.”
The IOLERO was created in the aftermath of the 2013 shooting of Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office deputy. In 2014, while Honigsberg was on her staff, Ravitch elected to not bring charges against the deputy and released a lengthy report of her investigation that cleared the officer of any criminal charges.
The Bohemian has a message in with him at Sonoma Superior Court asking about his time at the D.A.’s office. Gelhaus remains on the SCSO force.
The county settled a federal civil-rights lawsuit with the Lopez family late last year for $3 million even as Rabbitt raised concerns about the budgetary impact of the IOLERO’s annual $500k budget, and about Threet’s work as the office’s first director.
Also late last year, the SCSO pushed the Sonoma County Supervisors to consider eliminating the full-time county position and replace it with a contracted auditor, claiming that the IOLERO under Threet was biased against the SCSO and that he was improperly creating police policy in his role.
The SCSO’s attempt to eliminate the IOELRO under Rob Giordano’s leadership is a matter of public record, as its written response to Threet’s annual report from last year amply demonstrates:
“The Sheriff’s Office feels a more productive model to accomplish this is to hire a truly neutral, independent, and unbiased auditor for a specific, limited period of time. If there is no expectation of employment beyond a specific period of time, there is no pressure or inherent need to justify IOLERO. This would greatly reduce the chances of either intentional or unintentional bias developing in the auditor. It would also afford the Sheriff’s Office the opportunity to get input from a variety of perspectives outside of the County. The Sheriff’s Office looks forward to continuing to work with the Board of Supervisors to fine tune the auditor model.”
Rabbitt has echoed those concerns raised in the SCSO report in public remarks, as has supervisor Shirlee Zane.
In January, newly elected Sheriff Mark Essick told the Press Democrat that he was pleased with the county’s choice to replace Threet, which then was under wraps as Navarro underwent a background check.
“I’m excited,” Essick told the local paper of record. “I think this person will bring a different perspective to IOLERO than the current director.”