SOLANO COUNTY (BCN/CBS SF) — Solano County Sheriff Thomas A. Ferrara said this week that federal law enforcement officials found no evidence that his employees “are members of any extremist organizations” after an investigative report by the online news site Open Vallejo this past February found several sheriff deputies displayed support for an antigovernment militia movement.
Ferrara issued his response to members of Benicia Black Lives Matter following a Feb. 14 letter the group sent — days after the Open Vallejo article was published — to Ferrara demanding the sheriff expel the deputies for supporting the right-wing extremist group Three Percenters.
“Although I cannot comment on specifics of my internal investigations, I can tell you that we found no merit to the criminal/racist allegations made in the ‘open Vallejo’ article,” Ferrara wrote. “We have reviewed our social media and political expression policies, and in consultation with the FBI, concluded that the photographs (taken over four years ago) of the deputies, although disappointing, are not in themselves a crime or were in violation of policy when the social media posts were first published.”
In its investigation, Open Vallejo discovered several members of the sheriff’s office, including former sheriff’s office Public Information Officer Daniel “Cully” Pratt, posted Three Percenter imagery on their respective social media pages during the past few years.
Pratt, who operates a wood-working business, posted a photo of himself posing with a handmade wooden rifle display rack that he made for Sgt. Roy Stockton in 2018.
Stockton is also a member of the sheriff’s office and was recently elected to the Vacaville City Council.
The art piece includes the words, “WILL NOT COMPLY,” and 13 shotgun shells arranged in a circle around the Roman numeral III. Pratt used the hashtag ‘#3percenter,’ in the Instagram post.
The sheriff’s office homeless outreach coordinator, deputy Dale Matsuoka, posted Three Percenter symbols over his social media, according to Open Vallejo, which also discovered that “Matsuoka changed his Facebook profile picture to the Three Percenter logo. It was accompanied by the slogan, ‘When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty,’”
A loosely formed group, Three Percenters was founded following the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. The name comes from the incorrect belief that only 3 percent of the American colonists fought against Great Britain during the American Revolution. The group, which is spread-out through the United States, advocates for active resistance of the federal government and the right for private gun ownership.
Ferrara also addressed concerns about a possible link between the Three Percenters and the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., which left five people dead, including a police officer. Ferrara said that “with a high degree of confidence” he was certain none of his employees were present in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6.
“Since the events of January 6th occurred, I have educated myself and my command staff on the III Percenters and have arranged for training in extremist ideology for all of my staff, as well,” he wrote. “We learned that the ideology of the III percenters has changed since the posts were first made, which has deepened our own understanding of the need to proactively address all political ideologies with a renewed level of social responsibility and accountability.”
Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown said Wednesday that she is pleased Ferrara worked with the FBI to determine if any of the sheriff’s employees were part of an extremist organization.
“I trust the FBI,” said Brown, who represents the city of Benicia, along with a portion of Vallejo. “I also trust Tom, he keeps tight reigns on his employees. But I’m also glad this information came to light. We always need to pay attention about possible links to extremists.”
Fellow Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan agreed.
“I do appreciate the sheriff’s response,” Hannigan said about Ferrara’s letter. “We were relieved to know, early on, none of our officers were involved in the insurrection. I was reassured.”
Ferrara went on to say in his letter that “individuals are required to pass a rigorous background investigation, which specifically examines extreme personal beliefs,” before being hired by the Solano County Sheriff’s Office.
“All of my deputies wear body worn cameras and we have a process in place to randomly review their contacts with citizens and calls for service,” he added.
The letter from Benicia Black Lives Matter further demanded the county establish an Office of Equity, much like the city of Benicia and Sonoma County did, “to solidify (Solano County’s) commitment to equity and the eradication of racist ideology.”
Ferrara’s letter didn’t address that demand.
Representatives with Benicia Black Lives Matter couldn’t be reached Wednesday.