Solano County Supervisors hear opposition, support for sheriff oversight
Vallejo Times-Herald, by Katy St. Clair, May 12, 2021
Far-right ideology was linked to department
In the wake of revelations that members of the Solano County Sheriff’s Department has shown support for far-right ideologies, several county residents called in the supervisors meeting on Tuesday.
Some expressed their opposition and others voiced their support for agendizing a discussion about creating an oversight board to monitor the sheriff’s office.
In an internal email obtained by the Times-Herald, the Solano County Republican Central Committee organized its members to call into the meeting with talking points in support of the sheriff’s office. Members were told not to identify themselves as Republicans, but several callers expressed the points covered in the email.
According to an investigation by the nonprofit newsroom Open Vallejo, a deputy and two sergeants of the Solano County Sheriff’s Office promoted a far-right militia “for years” that is linked to terrorist plots and the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol in Washington D.C.
After Open Vallejo’s story, which featured far-right Three Percenter symbols taken from public social media accounts and other online sources belonging to members of the sheriff’s office, Benicia Black Lives Matter wrote a letter to the supervisors asking for a “full investigation both at the county level and at the city level” to make sure that “policies and procedures — including those focused on recruitment and disciplinary actions — are in place to actively expel these extremists from the ranks of law enforcement.”
The letter was also sent to Solano County Sheriff Thomas Ferrara.
The Three Percenters have been dubbed a “radical anti-government group” by organizations such as the SPLC and the FBI. The FBI also claims that many members of these groups are in law enforcement, according to CBS News.
In February, BBLM asked the board of supervisors to condemn right-wing extremism and conduct a full investigation into Open Vallejo’s allegations. They also asked the board to consider creating an independent oversight committee, citing a new law that went into effect in September of last year.
Assembly Bill 1185 makes it easier for supervisors or voters to establish independent oversight boards to oversee activities within the sheriff’s department. Such boards would also have subpoena powers — something that many independent police oversight boards do not.
On Tuesday, several members of BBLM called in to support the creation of an oversight board, or the very least have a discussion about it. One member said that learning that there were people who supported Three Percenter ideology in the sheriff’s department “caused alarm for me” and said this was a public safety issue. Another caller said there is now fear and suspicion about the sheriff’s office and therefore civilian oversight is warranted.
Callers who opposed agendizing any discussion of oversight said it would create more government bureaucracy.
“Since when has government solved anything?” asked one caller.
Two callers referred to BBLM as “left wing anarchists and Marxists.” A man who identified himself as ex-law enforcement, said that “out-of-town forces are trying to bring their dysfunction to Solano County and to disrupt the peace that we’ve had here.”
Another caller named Steve said that the mass media makes it “almost impossible” to get all the facts.
“We have seen cops everywhere get charged with violations of protocol… Some cops are incompetent and get removed. Most of the time the accusations are inaccurate,” he said.
According to Bay City News and confirmed by the Times-Herald, Benicia Black Lives Matter received a response from Sheriff Ferrara. In the letter, Ferrara said he was “sickened” as he watched the Jan. 6 attack and that he can confirm that none of his employees were present on that day.
However, the sheriff’s letter did admit that the far-right images posted on social media by his officers were “disappointing” but were “not in themselves a crime…or in violation of (then current) policy.”
Further, Sheriff Ferrara said he had arranged for extremist ideology training for all of his staff, including himself.
Ferrara also told BBLM that he consulted with the FBI, which he claims, “confirmed none of my employees are members of any extremist organizations.”
When Open Vallejo attempted to verify this, the FBI instead called Ferrara’s statement into question. In a statement, spokesperson Gina Swankie told the newsroom that “a group which may espouse domestic extremist ideology is not illegal in and of itself, no matter how offensive their views may be, and membership in any group is neither tracked nor is sufficient basis for an FBI investigation.”
Former special agent for the FBI in San Francisco John Bennett told Open Vallejo that it is possible that the FBI would inform the head of an agency that there was an inquiry into their organization, and that “a disciplined and honorable leader of an agency would not make a public statement contrary to what they know is the truth about the status of an FBI inquiry.” He also added that “if the Bureau comes out later with contrary statements, that department and its leadership will lose credibility.”
Supervisor Monica Brown made a motion at a previous meeting to agendize discussion of oversight of the sheriff’s department but no one seconded it. Brown could not be reached for comment at press time.
BBLM members dispute the idea that they are “Marxists” or far left radicals. One caller from the organization said that she is “not a Marxist, I am a mother of two” and said she called in because of her children.
“I’m confused why we are not having a conversation (about this),” she said, adding that they are just asking for a discussion to be raised about oversight.
BBLM member Brandon Greene, a civil rights attorney, told the Times-Herald that he too is concerned about public safety and security for residents and he is not an “out-of-town Marxist.”
“My property tax bill says otherwise,” he said.