Sheriff Freitas trip to D.C. cost Sonoma taxpayers $2,522.90. Plus: ICE and SCSO.

Shannon Dower, Legal Staff Supervisor and Discovery Clerk with Sonoma County, followed up with the Fishing Report this week with some information about the cost of an early-February trip to Washington D.C., taken by Sonoma County Sheriff-Coroner Steve Freitas.

During the trip, Freitas met with then-U.S. Attorney General designate Jeff Sessions, along with five other California sheriffs. The trip was met with dismay among immigrant-rights advocates in the county, who have worked to protect the local undocumented population from the threat of mass deportation. At the same time Freitas was meeting with Sessions, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors was pushing the idea of the county-as-sanctuary—without actually calling it a sanctuary, given how loaded that word has become. Sessions has since been confirmed as U.S. Attorney General—and in the days following his confirmation, immigration agents have ramped up raids around the country and the state—but not in Sonoma County.

Dower says the Freitas trip cost Sonoma County taxpayers $2,522.90, broken down as follows:
Airfare: $595.60
Hotel: $1597.30
Meals: $300.00
Taxi: $30

(I’m waiting for further information from Dower and the SCSO about where he stayed and for how long.)

The information about the cost of his trip arrived as the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office released a public letter from Freitas this week, to regional media outlets, that it then withdrew and then resent a day later when the original letter was found to have contained some errant information.

The corrections in the second letter key in on the number of times the county informed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents when an undocumented immigrant was arrested and booked into the county lockup.

The first letter, sent on Feb. 22, reported that ICE had been contacted four times this year: one undocumented perpetrator at the Main Adult Detention Center was a felony suspect; two were in jail on domestic violence charges; and a third was locked up on a weapons charge.

The updated letter on Feb. 23 said—with “extreme apologies” from SCSO for pushing out the initial, errant info—that ICE had in fact been contacted 15 times so far this year, not four.

Here’s the updated breakdown of ICE contacts in 2017: Two felonies, three domestic violence, one weapons charge, four DUI, two felony DUI, one for violating probation; one for false identification/drug possession, and one who had committed assault and battery on another person.

What is the eventual fate of those inmates?

“We don’t release them to ICE custody,” says Sgt. Spencer Crum, the SCSO public-information officer. “We simply advise ICE of the release date and if they pick them up, they pick them up outside of our jail after they are released. There is no ‘transfer of custody.’ We don’t know about it and don’t keep any records.”

In the updated and corrected letter, Freitas also clarified the rules-of-engagement with ICE officials who are looking for a criminal suspect in the county—an entire paragraph that wasn’t in the first letter in any form, but which seems designed to set minds at ease when it comes to fears of random roundup of undocumented immigrants under the guise of a criminal investigation:

“Additionally, my deputies will cooperate with ICE agents if they are in Sonoma County looking for serious/violent criminals in the community. However, our policy is clear that my deputies working with ICE, and the ICE agents themselves, will not detain people solely for immigration violations while we are looking for the serious criminals. If ICE does not agree to these conditions then my deputies will not join them in the community.”

That paragraph could be viewed as an acknowledgement of SB 54, the Senate bill proposed by California Senate pro Tempore Kevin DeLeon that would make California a sanctuary state, and restrict local law enforcement participation in ICE raids. In part, the de Leon bill reads, “State and local participation in federal immigration enforcement programs also raises constitutional concerns, including the prospect that California residents could be detained in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, targeted on the basis of race or ethnicity in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, or denied access to education based on immigration status.”

At the same time, SB 54 would also restrict California law enforcement agencies from, “Giving federal immigration authorities access to interview individuals in agency or department custody for immigration enforcement purposes.” And yet it appears that SCSO may have done that on 15 occasions so far this year—gave ICE a heads-up on potential deportees, including a handful locked up on what appear to be non-violent, non-felony charges.

Freitas says in his letter that his main concern is the public safety of county residents, “regardless of your citizenship or immigration status.”

Sonoma County Library