.Communication Breakdown

This week, as widespread protests against police brutality engulfed cities around the country, two North Bay Sheriffs made headlines for reasons not directly tied to the protests. Instead, the top lawmen in Marin and Sonoma counties were embroiled in scandals due to poor communication.

On Friday, during his daily press briefing, Gov. Gavin Newsom accused Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle of overseeing a racist institution. 

Newsom said that a close friend had told him that the Marin Sheriff’s Office had stopped his son because he was Black. 

Newsom’s office backpedaled the accusation after some more research into the particular incident. The Governor’s chief of staff called Doyle on Saturday to apologize for the Governor’s statement, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

It turned out that Newsom’s friend’s son was stopped by a different law enforcement agency in Ross about four years ago. But, according to the Marin IJ, it’s not exactly clear which agency conducted the stop. Neither the Sheriff nor the Ross Police Department have a record of the incident in question.

Still, Derek Smith, Newsom’s friend, told the paper that he had a “constructive” meeting with the Ross Police Chief based on Smith’s concerns that his son might be targeted because of his race. 

Meanwhile, one county to the north, Sheriff Mark Essick is facing a crisis essentially of his own making. On Thursday, Essick announced in a statement posted on the law enforcement agency’s official Facebook page that, beginning June 1, the agency would only enforce the state Health Order, not Sonoma County’s Health Orders.

In the following days nearly every local elected official—including leaders of city law enforcement agencies—made public statements condemning Essick’s decision or critiquing the way in which he made the announcement.

On Friday, after a morning meeting with elected leaders attempting to change Essick’s mind, Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin told the Press Democrat that Essick had agreed to enforce the County Health Order. The Sheriff’s Office responded by updating the Thursday night Facebook post: “Contrary to other reports the Sheriff is not reversing his position.” 

On Monday, Essick had agreed to enforce the county health order, at least until June 8. 

Still, many people are out for Essick’s job. On Thursday, hours after Essick’s initial announcement, Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett released a statement calling Essick’s actions “reckless” and concluding that Essick “has to go.” 

Leticia Romero, president of North Bay Organizing Project’s board of directors, agrees.

“I feel the Sheriff’s decision pits white people and the business community against people of color,” Romero said, adding that the Sheriff’s decision may worsen the already disproportionately heavy impact of Covid-19 on Sonoma County’s Latinx residents.

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