More than 100 curfew violators placed in unsafe holding conditions

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Police officers prepare to arrest protesters in Santa Rosa on June 2. Credit: Chris Spangenberg

On the night of June 2, more than 111 people were arrested for curfew violations following a march against police brutality, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. 

Earlier that Tuesday evening, approximately 700 people gathered in Roseland to remember Andy Lopez, who was shot and killed by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy in 2013 when he was 13-years-old. The June 2 vigil, honoring what would have been Lopez’s 20th birthday, came amidst daily nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. 

Those arrested and held overnight at the Sonoma County Main Detention Facility included protesters, volunteer medics and bystanders, including people driving home and people watching from the sidewalk in front of their homes. Video revealed that many arresting officers were unmasked, violating the Santa Rosa Police Department’s Covid-19 protocols and the County’s Health Orders. Once transported from the scene of the arrest, adult arrestees were held for eight to 12 hours in conditions they describe as unsafe, unsanitary and inhumane.  

Though the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement to the public that they have “robust hygiene protocols in place to protect everyone from the spread of Covid-19 as much as possible,” those arrested largely dispute that the protocols were followed. The volunteer groups H-PEACE (Health Professionals for Equality and Community Empowerment) and Mask Sonoma say that holding conditions, which included overcrowding in cells and lack of basic sanitation and hygiene, pose significant health risks to arrested individuals and the public in our current pandemic conditions which call for mask-wearing, physical distancing, and hand-hygiene to stem the spread of Covid-19. 

On June 1, the City of Santa Rosa declared a local state of emergency and implemented a curfew June 1 through June 4 from 8pm to 5am, citing incidents of violence, looting and vandalism in the previous days. In a June 1 curfew announcement, Santa Rosa City Manager Sean McGlynn said the curfew was meant to protect the community from those who meant to do harm. Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm called the curfew “a tool to facilitate peaceful protests without the disruption of violent and destructive criminal behavior.” All four arrestees who spoke to the Bohemian said that the June 2 protest remained non-violent.

Around this time, curfews were briefly implemented in cities and counties all over the US., though many were canceled after civil-rights advocates said they violated protesters’ rights to assemble and exercise free speech. The City of Santa Rosa did not lift its curfew early, but did allow it to expire on June 4. 

Members of H-PEACE and Mask Sonoma were arrested. These groups followed the march to provide medical assistance and masks to protesters. Two H-PEACE doctors, who wished to use the pseudonyms Michelle and Rachel, were arrested around 9:40pm. 

Michelle said, “About four male officers took the two of us down a darker street and did not have their body cameras on. I had to ask multiple times for them to turn their body cameras on and even then, some switched them off a few minutes later.” She said that the cameras have a red blinking light when they are recording.

Santa Rosa Police Lieutenant Jeneane Kucker said, “We are not aware of anyone asking officers to turn cameras on.” 

Michelle said the situation scared her.

Kate is a licensed social worker who was also arrested while volunteering with H-PEACE. She said, “I was searched by a male officer. He put his hand in my front pants pocket to check it—the same pocket five times. It felt really invasive.”

Most arrestees were booked into the detention facility after Michelle and Rachel arrived. Michelle and Rachel said that most women arrested appeared to be in their teens and 20s and most were people of color—Latina and black.  

Tess Wilson, 22, was driving with a friend near the protests when she realized that they were walled-in by riot police. Police placed them under arrest. Wilson said her wrists were zip-tied behind her back for at least three hours.

“They redid my zip-ties a few times,” she said. “I had to beg because my circulation was getting cut off. My hands were hurting a lot.”

Two days later, Wilson still felt numbness in both hands. 

Kate said she looked at the wrists of at least 20 women at the jail.

“They had red marks, bruises, cuts from how tight the zip ties were,” she said. “Their hands were still swollen hours later.”

At the detention facility, about 46 women were held, with most kept shoulder-to-shoulder in one holding cell. Ten women were held between two cells on the second floor. Arrestees report that hand sanitizer was not made available to them, which contradicts a protocol described by the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a media request for comment. 

In the main holding area, there were two bathrooms that had two bars of hand soap. Multiple people reported that someone vomited in one bathroom and it was not cleaned for more than five hours.

Rachel said, “There was no trash can, so we had to throw sanitary products on the floor.” 

Michelle added, “Every hour, staff would sign a sheet saying they’d serviced the bathroom, but no effort was actually made.” 

Kate said, “I asked an officer for a Clorox wipe. I said ‘I would like to wipe down the areas people are touching.’ The officer told me, ‘Those are not for you.’”

Miles Sarvis-Wilburn, of Mask Sonoma, said unmasked police officers interfacing with the public has been an ongoing concern in Santa Rosa throughout the Covid-19 epidemic. 

As of June 7, there have been 642 positive Covid-19 cases in Sonoma County, which is approximately 0.12 percent of the population. As of May 25—the last time a public update was provided—there have been nine confirmed Covid-19 cases among employees of the Santa Rosa Police Department—8.1 percent of their staff.

“Covid-19 caseload among SRPD is drastically higher than the general population,” Sarvis-Wilburn said. 

In a statement sent to the Bohemian regarding mask use, Santa Rosa Police Chief Ray Navarro said, “During the night, it came to my attention that some of our SRPD officers were failing to wear their department-issued face coverings … as is required Department protocol and aligns with Sonoma County’s Public Health Order to help stem the spread of Covid-19. As the Chief, I take full responsibility for this lapse in procedure. I have taken immediate action to rectify this.” 

Fourteen juveniles were among those arrested.

Chief Probation Officer David Koch said, “About eight youth were brought to Juvenile Hall on curfew violations. Six of these youth were released that morning or during the day…”

The Bohemian has not spoken to juveniles arrested about their experience at Juvenile Hall. 

In a press release, H-PEACE and Mask Sonoma call on law enforcement to, “initiate outreach for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and assessment for isolation and quarantine in individuals who have been exposed to unsafe law enforcement practices, including follow up mental health support.” They also call on an investigation into the detention practices that preceded the events of June 2.  

The release also calls on law enforcement and public officials, “to institutionalize anti-racist practices … . The public needs to know how law enforcement is protecting them in both the overlapping public health crises of the current COVID-19 pandemic and the long-standing epidemic of institutionalized violence against black and brown people.”

By Chelsea Kurnick

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