Sonoma County’s first law enforcement accountability agency is open for business.
Jerry Threet, director of the fledgling Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, gathered with community members and county officials Monday to celebrate the department’s formation, borne out of the 2013 deputy-involved shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez.
“It was a journey begun in pain, but it has become one of hope and expectation,” Threet said. “This is a position of public trust and it is an honor to have been selected; I will do my very best to earn your trust.”
Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas and Assistant Sheriff Rob Giordano joined the group of about 40 people at the 5:30 p.m. reception for Threet at the county’s health services rotunda on Chanate Road. Incoming probation chief David Koch also was present, as were about half of the 21-member Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force, which developed the concept for the office.
Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, in his introduction, said that the underlying theme of Threet’s experience is “service to the public with fairness, equality and justice.”
County administrator Veronica Ferguson told the group that they had set a “high bar” for the director’s credentials. They sought an experienced lawyer with the skills and personality to work with minority communities and law enforcement.
Ferguson said Threet “has the heart and the spark and the personal commitment” to launch an entirely new department.
Threet, 55, arrives to the job — and to Sonoma County — more than two years after Lopez was killed on Oct. 22, 2013. Lopez was carrying an airsoft BB gun designed to look like an assault rifle, which the deputy mistook to be a real weapon, as he walked on Moorland Avenue in his southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood.
The office was created to provide an independent audit of Sheriff’s Office practices, policies and internal investigations. Threet and his staff will eventually be able to take complaints from citizens who prefer to go through a non-law enforcement agency. Currently, people submit complaints directly to the Sheriff’s Office.
A former deputy city attorney for San Francisco, Threet and his family moved to Sebastopol last year.
Sylvia Lemus, a member of the task force, said that she might have been the first person to knock on Threet’s new office door on April 11, his first day of work, and she said he welcomed her visit. Although the task force disbanded once it presented its 21 recommendations to county supervisors last year, many members like Lemus have stayed involved as the county has begun implementing some of the ideas.
“I’m invested in the process,” said Lemos, a co-director of the Roseland Cinco de Mayo Festival with task force Chairwoman Caroline Bañuelos. “I grew up in Moorland, and I went to all the same schools as Andy Lopez.”
Threet said in an interview at his office before the evening reception that he’s focused on meeting people and laying the groundwork for what is expected to be a robust community outreach program. The Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach is located on the second floor of a county building on County Center Drive, across the street from In-N-Out Burger.
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Threet said the public is welcome to come by the office, although it will take some time before the department is fully operational. He’s still hiring an administrative coordinator, who will be a key community organizer. He said he wants to move quickly to establish a citizen advisory board and start holding community events to talk about police practices like deadly force.
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“Use of deadly force is a key point of discussion across the country, and it seems we should be talking about that, too,” Threet said.
Threet said he spent the weekend at a National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement event last in New York City. He’s met with the auditor for the Bay Area Rapid Transit’s police force and plans to meet with similar program leaders in San Jose and San Francisco to learn how their programs work and get ideas for what might work in Sonoma County.
Threet said his first major meeting with Sonoma County sheriff’s staff is Thursday. They will to start building a system to share files and information and establish a protocol for Threet’s review of internal investigations.
The Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach is located at 2300 County Center Drive, Suite A211. The main number is 565-1534.