The Oakland City Council voted on Tuesday to support an audit of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and in particular Santa Rita Jail, where there have been extensive allegations of poor medical care and abuse by deputies.
The city council lacks authority over the sheriff’s office and the jail. But the vote could add pressure to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, which has resisted efforts by activist groups like the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights to call for a full independent audit of the sheriff’s office.
Already state Sen. Nancy Skinner has thrown her support behind an audit of the sheriff’s office, citing a high number of jail deaths, reports that pregnant women were pressured to get abortions, and that one woman even gave birth in a jail cell alone. Her letter cited articles I wrote for the East Bay Express.
The Oakland City Council resolution was introduced by Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, who was elected in November. She also appeared at a rally outside Oakland City Hall prior to the meeting.
“Together what we are going to do today when we go into city hall is we are going to say, ‘Oakland City Council please stand for an independent audit of the sheriff’s office so we can have the accountability, transparency and justice that the entire county and all of Oakland deserve,'” Fortunato Bas said at the rally.
Barbara Doss, whose son Dujuan Armstrong was killed in Santa Rita last June, also spoke at the rally. The circumstances around Armstrong’s death remain mysterious. The sheriff’s office said he died of a drug overdose, but has also said that he was involved in a confrontation with deputies and was restrained.
Doss has been trying to obtain an autopsy report and video of the incident, but the sheriff’s office has declined to release any more information pending the conclusion of an investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.
In January, Doss confronted Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern at the Lottery Commission building in Sacramento. At Tuesday’s rally, she said he is someone “who has no remorse for other human beings.”
The sheriff’s office has denied many of the allegations of poor medical care and facilities, which have been made in a series of lawsuits. In fact, Ahern gave the jail an A grade in a recent interview with KTVU.
“We take great pride in providing a safe environment and quality medical care to those in our custody,” Cmdr. Tom Madigan, who works at the jail, said in an email.
Still, some allegations are impossible to deny. The sheriff’s office has acknowledged a woman gave birth in a jail cell and four deputies are facing criminal charges for facilitating assaults by inmates using urine or feces, commonly known as “gassing.”
The Oakland City Council voted unanimously in support of an audit.