Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods at a June 29, 2017, press conference in Oakland. Photo: Scott Morris

Alameda Co. Sheriff’s Office still listening to defense attorneys’ conversations, public defender says

Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods alleged on Monday that the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has continued to intercept and record communications between jail inmates and their attorneys even after a sergeant was charged with four felonies for allegedly recording privileged conversations last year.

In a letter sent to other defense attorneys on Monday, Woods alleged two instances when deputies captured privileged communications on their body-worn cameras. He also said issues with the phones used for no-contact visits in Santa Rita Jail may have led to deputies recording conversations.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said that Woods sent the sheriff’s office a letter with a list of allegations and that they have been investigating each one.

“So far we are finding these allegations to be unfounded,” Kelly wrote in an email. “Our plan is to respond to each concern with facts, proof and articulation. Thus far we have not seen any indication that privileged communication was knowingly recorded or that those recordings were used to obtain information or evidence against clients.”

According to Woods, in one instance a deputy opened attorney-client correspondence and captured the contents on his body-worn camera. The public defender’s office believes this was provided to the district attorney’s office.

Woods also alleged that a deputy recorded a conversation between an attorney and an in-custody client before a court appearance without the attorney being aware.

Other allegations happened in Santa Rita Jail. Woods wrote that the sheriff’s office told a public defender who uses a wheelchair that his conversations would be recorded if he used the ADA-accessible interview booth at the jail. That attorney was told he had to conduct his interview in intake and release to prevent it from being recorded.

Later, Woods alleged that the sheriff’s office told his attorneys that all non-contact visits with attorneys had to be conducted in intake and release because of a software glitch that did not allow deputies at the jail to turn off recording.

Woods detailed this allegation in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday. He told the paper that the jail recently upgraded their phone software system for visits, which would warn visitors that their conversations would be recorded, even for attorneys.

Kelly told the newspaper that no privileged attorney communications were recorded.

In his letter, Woods said that he would file a motion in Alameda County Superior Court seeking a judge’s order to halt any eavesdropping or recording of privileged communications.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. James Russell in a body camera video released by the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office last year where he admits to recording privileged conversations between attorneys and juveniles in custody.

Last year, Woods revealed that a sheriff’s sergeant had recorded privileged communications between defense attorneys and juvenile clients at the Eden Township Substation in San Leandro. Woods released body camera video where Sgt. James Russell told Lt. Timothy Schellenberg that he had been recording the conversations.

“How is that not privileged information?” Schellenberg asked in the video.

“Well it is, but then it just doesn’t get admissible,” Russell replied.

After the revelation, one juvenile criminal case was thrown out and the district attorney’s office reviewed all others. Russell was charged with four felony counts of eavesdropping and pleaded not guilty in December. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on July 23.