Cop watch

“This is the worst jail I’ve ever been in. And I’ve been in some real shitholes.”

That’s the less-than-glowing review from one of the Sacramento main jail’s better-known guests, activist Cindy Sheehan. She joined about 50 other people last Saturday in a march on the jail and office of Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, demanding the creation of a civilian oversight panel for the sheriff’s department and jail.

Along with Sheehan—and a large contingent of Occupy folks, young anarchists in black bandanas and veteran organizers—was Sacramento resident Annie J. Harmon.

Her 47-year-old son Lamont Harmon was shot and killed by Sacramento sheriff’s deputies in February. It was during a late-night snack run to a convenience store near Fruitridge Road and Stockton Boulevard. According to the sheriff’s department, Harmon tried to run when he was stopped by deputies investigating a report of a stolen car. At some point, Harmon reached toward his waistband, and deputies shot him. No weapon was found.

“The coroner just left a note on my door, telling me to call them,” Harmon told SN&R.

She later learned that 18 shots had been fired, 10 of which stuck her son. She is now pursuing a lawsuit against the county.

“I want justice for my son. We’re not supposed to be afraid of the police. They should be helping us,” she told SN&R.

The Harmon incident was one of a string of shootings by Sacramento sheriff deputies—six people have been killed so far this year.

At the same time, Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully has decided that her office will no longer investigate police shootings or in-custody deaths, because there isn’t enough money in the budget.

“So, we’re here, offering to do Jan Scully’s job for her,” said organizer Andy Conn, as the group prepared to start its march.

There have been periodic calls for some sort of civilian oversight of the jail and sheriff’s department—mostly rebuffed.

Complaints about jail deaths and excessive force got so bad during the Sheriff Lou Blanas administration, that Blanas relented just enough to allow creation of the Office of the Inspector General. The office is staffed by former sheriff deputy and San Bernardino police chief Lee Dean, who by most accounts is doing a good job with no resources and little ability to do more than make recommendations.

“Lee Dean comes in, and he tries to clean things up. But the deputies have told him, ‘We’re not accountable to anyone,’” said activist Linda L.R. Roberts.

There weren’t a lot of details presented at Saturday’s protest about what a stronger civilian oversight body might look like, how it would be different than the limited oversight given by the I.G. or the City of Sacramento’s Office of Public Safety Accountability.

But Roberts said the first step should be taking the jail out of the control of the sheriff’s department and putting it under the control of the county board of supervisors.

“It’s our jail. We’re paying the bills. It’s not designed to torture people and kill them in,” she added.

The group did attract one counterprotestor, Granite Bay landscaper Robert Dixon, who wore an American-flag T-shirt and said, “If you don’t like the conditions of the jail, don’t go.”