Group claims “retaliation for public criticism of detention conditions” at West County Detention Facility.
During an investigation by the Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff, it was discovered the San Francisco-based Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) volunteers repeatedly violated rules at the West County Detention Facility (WCDF) in Richmond, by providing their personal phone numbers and addresses to incarcerated persons; relaying messages to family and friends of incarcerated persons; receiving phone calls and mail from incarcerated persons; sending contraband to incarcerated persons; and depositing money into the accounts of incarcerated persons.
According to the organization’s website, “CIVIC is devoted to abolishing U.S. immigration detention, while ending the isolation of people currently suffering in this profit-driven system.”
The investigation found approximately 20 CIVIC volunteers repeatedly violated the rules for an extended period.
On March 5, 2018, CIVIC’s clearance was revoked, but like other groups that lose their clearance, they can appeal. CIVIC has not invoked its right to appeal. Access for other some other organizations is currently being reviewed for possible violations.
“The Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff welcomes and partners with numerous community-based organizations and non-governmental groups to assist incarcerated person with their rehabilitation and re-entry back to their communities when they are released,” said Assistant Sheriff Matt Schuler. “While CIVIC’s clearance was revoked, we continue to partner with numerous community and volunteer groups that provide needed services and resources to incarcerated persons.”
There are currently over 20 programs available to the incarcerated population at West County Detention Facility. Many of the programs are run by volunteers from community-based organizations.
All volunteer groups that interact with the Office of the Sheriff incarcerated population and/or Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees must agree to the rules set forth in the Detention Facility Clearance Request. These cover: Harassment and Discrimination, Treatment of Offenders and Non-Fraternization, Code of Conduct/Ethics/Confidentiality Agreement and Custody Services Bureau Guidelines for Volunteers. Specific rules for volunteers include: must not engage in undue familiarity with inmates or family and friends of in-mates; must not contact or correspond with an inmate or their family; must not take or send messages or items on behalf of an inmate; and must not trade, barter, lend or engage in any personal transactions with any inmate.
Every volunteer must take a class that covers the guidelines and safety for civilians in the detention facility. They also sign an agreement and are warned that clearance will be revoked if they violate any of the rules.
CIVIC Denies Violations, Seeks Reinstatement
However, CIVIC – a nationwide network working to end the isolation and abuse of people in ICE detention through visitation, monitoring, and other types of support – denies the violations occurred and is calling on ICE and the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office to reinstate their community visitation program and free hotline at the WCDF.
“None of these actions are in violation of the facility’s policies which all CIVIC volunteers are forced to sign if they want to visit someone in ICE detention,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/executive director of CIVIC. “In terminating our program, the Sheriff’s Department and ICE are not just trying to punish us, they are trying to send a message to other activists to stay silent. We will not be silenced.”
Since 2011, CIVIC has operated a visitation program and free hotline for people in ICE detention at WCDF. Last November, CIVIC published a letter from 27 women detained at WCDF that recorded abuses at the facility, including being frequently locked up for hours and being forced to use bags in their cells when they needed to use the toilet. (See related article.)
“I am very grateful to CIVIC because they were of great help and support to my immigration case. It was hell where I was detained. They kept us in a precarious situation,” expressed Nancy Mayer Mejia, who was detained for five months at WCDF and penned the letter that 26 other women then signed onto. “Thanks to the people of CIVIC, I believed in myself again. They brought hope into my life during every visit.”
Since November, CIVIC has continued to speak out in newspapers, on the radio, in community meetings, and at peaceful protests outside the facility. The letter from the women in detention led to calls for investigations from local representatives, including U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, who called for a federal probe into the matter.
A Sheriff’s Department investigation found that nearly all of the complaints were unfounded and unsubstantiated. Claims of being “locked down” for 23 hours a day were found to be false. The most time any ICE detainee was confined to their dormitory room was one hour and 24 minutes. The “lock downs” are commonly done for facility counts or for administrative reasons. At WCDF the detainees have keys to their rooms and free use of common bathroom facilities.
In one example, the person who complained in the article of being confined to her room for 23 hours was in fact confined for several days in a room with a full toilet and sink. She was confined in such a manner for disciplinary purposes after she assaulted another detainee.
Regarding the use of “red” biohazard bags for toilet needs, there was no evidence that any detainee was forced to use the bags in that manner. In very few cases detainees did use the bags for that purpose in violation of policy. Biohazard bag distribution is now limited to those detainees who are ill or have other medical needs. All inmates are free to use the bathrooms at any time, and even during “lock down” periods of approximately one hour, by notifying a Deputy Sheriff by using the call button in their rooms. (See related article.)
“CIVIC volunteers play an essential role in supporting people in ICE detention and their families. When we are informed about human rights abuses at the hands of the government, it is our moral and civic responsibility to speak up and share the demands of those on the inside with the public,” said Rebecca Merton, CIVIC’s National Visitation Network Coordinator and Independent Monitor and the local coordinator of the WCDF visitation program.
On February 15, ICE terminated CIVIC’s free hotline with no advance warning or subsequent explanation. CIVIC has been operating this hotline since 2011 and uses it to facilitate visits and legal representation. Shortly thereafter, on February 20, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office suspended CIVIC visitation program coordinator Rebecca Merton’s visitation clearance with no clear explanation. After pressing the Sheriff’s Office for a reason, CIVIC leadership received an email on Monday from Captain Kristi Butterfield of WCDF, explaining that the Sheriff’s Office was revoking access for all CIVIC volunteers and terminating the visitation program at WCDF. The email explained that they had conducted a “thorough investigation” into CIVIC’s “emails, phone calls, radio and newspaper interviews” and found that “the organization poses a safety and security risk to the WCDF.”
“ICE and the county are trying to make us choose between our First Amendment rights and visiting our friends in ICE detention. This is not a choice that our government can legally ask us to make,” Fialho stated. “The constitution isn’t optional. It can’t be disregarded in an attempt to silence critics of the immigration detention system.”
After various local, state, and federal legislators sent inquiries to the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office and ICE about CIVIC’s program termination, the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department released a statement on March 8 on Facebook, stating that CIVIC volunteers had violated certain policies and procedures.
Since 2011 with the full knowledge of ICE and WCDF staff, CIVIC has been providing up to $20 of commissary money to people in detention so that they can buy food to supplement their meager meals at the facility. This is money CIVIC has raised from donations from churches and synagogues around the Bay Area. Since 2011 with the full knowledge of ICE and WCDF staff, CIVIC has been fielding phone calls and mail from people in ICE detention through the hotline extension ICE provided CIVIC and through other phone calls initiated by people in ICE detention. All regular phone calls and mail are monitored by the facility. CIVIC has never sent contraband to people in ICE detention. We have only sent religious and literary texts requested by people in ICE detention such as Catholic prayer books directly from book publishers. Since 2011 with the full knowledge of ICE and WCDF staff, CIVIC has provided people in ICE detention at WCDF and their ICE officer and immigration judge with the home addresses of the volunteers so that our volunteers can serve as sponsors to the people in ICE detention eligible for release. This is often the only way an asylum seeker can get released on parole.
Lesbia Karina Pérez Vásquez, a 21-year-old woman who fled Guatemala and was detained at WCDF, was one individual who benefited from this type of support: “When I was first picked up by ICE I was frightened and felt so alone. At WCDF I was told by other women that CIVIC came in every Friday to visit. We would all get excited that a friendly face was coming to see us,” she explained. Carmen Jimenez-Smith, a CIVIC volunteer began to visit Ms. Pérez Vásquez and worked with other CIVIC volunteers to fundraise for Ms. Pérez Vásquez’s immigration bond. She was released on February 1. Ms. Pérez Vásquez continued: “Señora Carmen placed me in her home and is continuing to host me and help me gain legal status. I’m so grateful for CIVIC.”
The policies, which all CIVIC volunteers are required to sign is essentially a contract of adhesion. The policy specifically says that volunteers should not “contact or correspond with inmate or with any member of the inmate’s family except as required by the employee’s assigned duties.” CIVIC volunteers are not employees of the facility, but even if they were, their assigned duties are to visit people and provide them with the support they need to address complaints and obtain their freedom through the immigration legal system.
“The money we provide people in ICE detention, so they can buy food serves as a major source of revenue for the facility along with the phone calls,” said Christina Mansfield, the co-founder/executive director of CIVIC. “Both commissary items and phone calls are exorbitantly priced. The money the facility obtains from the commissary and the phone calls are deposited in something called the ‘Inmate Welfare Fund.’ However, there is little accountability or transparency on how this money is spent. Up until now, the money we have been sending to people in ICE detention has served the facility just fine. But now, that we are speaking out against the system, the facility has decided that we no longer are serving them and we must be silenced.”
The visitation program ban came the day before Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a suit against California’s sanctuary laws, including AB 103, which CIVIC helped draft and provides the California state Attorney General with the power to monitor ICE detention facilities in the state. In Sessions’ complaint, he explicitly names the WCDF as a place he does not want the state monitoring.
“Please join us in telling ICE and the Sheriff’s Department that we will not be silent,” Fialho added. “It’s time we #BreaktheICE.”
The organization will hold a community vigil on Sunday, March 11 from 11:00 A.M. to 12:00 P.M. to “Support CIVIC and Protest Inhumane Conditions at WCDF” outside the West County Detention Facility, 5555 Giant Hwy, Richmond, CA 94806.
Herald reporter Daniel Borsuk and Allen Payton contributed to this article.Read More
By Jimmy Lee, Director of Public Affairs, Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff
A $10,000 reward is being offered by the family of murder victim Emily Courchesne for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect(s) in her killing.
On Friday, October 6, 2017, at about 10:05 AM, Sheriff’s Deputies were dispatched to a “Medical – PD” call at a residence on the 24000 block of Marsh Creek Road in unincorporated Contra Costa County near Byron.
Deputies found Courchesne, a Danville resident, deceased inside the home. Detectives later determined it was a homicide. Detectives believe Courchesne was killed that week sometime between Wednesday evening and Thursday early morning. She had been housesitting at the residence which is on a farm in Byron.
Anyone with any information on this case is asked to contact the Investigation Division at (925) 313-2600 or call the anonymous tip lines at (925) 313-1166 or (866) 846-3592. Tips can also be emailed to: email@example.com.Read More
From the Antioch Panthers Class of ’81 Facebook Page
Our classmate Michael Semanick has been nominated for his 11th Academy Award. Michael was nominated this year for his work Sound Mixing the film Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The 90th Annual Oscars are being presented tonight in Hollywood.
Michael was previously nominated in the categories of Sound and/or Sound Re-Mixing for his contributions to these films and has been presented the Academy Award twice … so far.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (2013)
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
The Social Network (2010)
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008)
The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001)
Semanick was honored with a special event in 2004, following his first Oscar win. He has worked on 110 films since 1987.
Allen Payton contributed to this report.Read More
SALT LAKE CITY (Grassroots Newswire) March 2, 2018 – The following local students have received their degree from Western Governors University (WGU). The university held its 64th commencement ceremony at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando on February 10th to celebrate the graduation of about 15,000 graduates from across the country.
- David Huntley of Antioch has received his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management.
- Kenneth Caraan of Antioch has received his Master of Science degree in Nursing – Leadership and Management (BSN to MSN).
- Oanh Vu of Pittsburg has received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing,
At commencement, the online, nonprofit university recognized 8,839 undergraduates and 6,117 graduates who have completed their degrees in business, information technology, K-12 teacher education, and healthcare, including nursing. More than 1,100 new alumni participating in the ceremony. Graduates who were not able to attend the ceremony were able to watch the event via live video stream on WGU’s website.
Thirty-nine percent of this year’s graduates represent the first generation in their family to complete college. The average time to graduation for bachelor’s degrees was two years, three months. The average time to graduation for graduate programs was one year, seven months.
Designed to meet the needs of working adults, WGU’s competency-based education model makes it possible for students to fit studying into their busy lives. Students complete courses as soon as they demonstrate that they have mastered the subject matter, enabling them to move quickly through material they already know and spend more time on focusing on what they still need to learn. As a result, many students are able to accelerate their studies, finishing faster and saving money.
Established in 1997 by 19 U.S. governors with a mission to expand access to high-quality, affordable higher education, online, nonprofit WGU now serves 94,000 students nationwide and has 101,000 graduates in all 50 states. Driving innovation as the nation’s leading competency-based university, WGU has been recognized by the White House, state leaders, employers, and students as a model that works in postsecondary education. In just 21 years, the university has become a leading influence in changing the lives of individuals and families, and preparing the workforce needed in today’s rapidly evolving economy. WGU is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, and was featured on NPR, NBC Nightly News, CNN, and in The New York Times. Learn more at www.wgu.edu.
RSS Feed http://news.wgu.edu/news/news.xml
For enrollment information contact: 866-225-5948 or wgu.edu.Read More
From Congressman Jerry McNerney
As your representative in Congress, I take very seriously my responsibility to be your voice in Washington. So when you called, emailed and wrote letters by the thousands, expressing your concerns about the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to eliminate net neutrality protections, I took action.
Prior to the FCC’s vote to repeal net neutrality, I submitted a formal request to address the full Commission. I wanted to make the case for maintaining a free and open internet, and to share some of the stories you’ve shared with me – stories of small business owners, veterans, students and so many more who rely on the internet for nearly every aspect of daily life. Unfortunately, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai denied my request.
Thankfully, there was someone on the Commission who wanted to ensure your voice and the voices of Americans across the country were heard. FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who stood strong and voted against the repeal, submitted a written statement on my behalf and read her own compelling dissent in opposition to the repeal of these crucial protections.
Commissioner Clyburn will be joining me this Sunday, March 4th from 3:00-4:30 PM at the Antioch Community Center for a town hall on net neutrality. We’ll be discussing your concerns and talking about how we move forward in the fight for a free and open internet.
For more information or to RSVP please call (925) 754-0716 or email McNerneyRSVP@mail.house.gov.
I hope to see you there.Read More
Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) announced he will host his 60th town hall and mobile district office hour since taking office in January of 2015. The town hall will be held at Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord tomorrow, Saturday, March 3rd at 11:00 a.m.
“I am proud to represent this community that is so civically engaged and invite all constituents to attend our 60th town hall to share their thoughts, opinions, and questions.”
Concord 60th Town Hall
Saturday, March 3, 2018
11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Ygnacio Valley High School
Concord, CA 94518
DeSaulnier’s regular and frequent practice of holding town halls was among the reasons his office was recently nominated by the Congressional Management Foundation as a finalist in the first-ever Democracy Awards for outstanding Constituent Service.
To confirm attendance, please by RSVP online at https://desaulnier.house.gov/town-hall-rsvp or call 925-933-2660. To request ADA accommodations, translation services, or for more information please contact one of Congressman DeSaulnier’s offices in either Walnut Creek or Richmond.Read More
With the health consequences of second-hand smoke to children and the elderly well-documented, Contra Costa County is on the verge of becoming the 42nd jurisdiction in the state to ban smoking in dwelling units of apartment buildings, hotels, and motels once supervisors approve the ordinance that’s slated for the board’s March 13th meeting.
In a lopsided meeting where supervisors did not hear any opposition against the proposed ordinance, District 1 Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond asked Contra Costa County Public Health Director Dan Peddycord whether the proposed ordinance will also apply to short-term rentals. Short-term rents have become a hot button issue in most part of the county and have impacted the county’s housing crisis.
Peddycord answered that the proposed ordinance will not apply to short-term rental units.
The full impact of the proposed county ordinance will require apartment owners and hotel and motel operators to post no smoking signs in dwelling units and to apply measures designed to eliminate second smoke from drifting into dwelling units where children and the elderly reside and are most susceptible to the respiratory effects of tobacco smoke.
The cities of Danville, El Cerrito, Richmond and Walnut Creek and the counties of Sonoma, San Mateo and Santa Clara are some of the jurisdictions that have already adopted second hand smoke prohibition laws.
In the county Public Health Department’s research on the proposed ordinance, officials garnered the full support from the California Apartment Association. Health department officials drew a 50 percent endorsement from four major homeowners’ associations in the county.
In the department’s research, officials learned four major hotels in the county are already in compliance with the proposed law by posting no smoking signs in guest rooms and common areas. Those hotels are the Burlington Hotel in Port Costa, the Crowne Plaza in Concord, Embassy Suites, and the Renaissance Hotel in Walnut Creek.
In Contra Costa County there are approximately 10,000 individual dwelling units that would be affected by the new ordinance supervisors will very likely approve at the March 13 meeting.
According to the Public Health Department, a majority of the 120 second hand smoke complaints received by the department’s Tobacco Prevention Program over the last three years continue to emanate from multi-family housing residents. During that period, 96 complaints were filed concerning unit-to-unit and outside-to-unit drifting smoke during that period.
“We are very happy to support this ordinance,” said Randy Uang of Breathe California, a San Francisco-based non-profit health organization. “This ordinance will help in reducing chronic breathing and lung ailments, especially among children in Contra Costa County.”
Stephanie Robbins, an apartment dweller in unincorporated Walnut Creek, told supervisors the proposed ordinance will help people like her who lives in an upstairs apartment unit and has to constantly endure second-hand smoke from a downstairs neighbor. “I’ve already spent $2,000 in hiring an attorney,” Robbins said. “I endorse this ordinance because it will help me and my child fight against second hand smoke.”
The ordinance will go into effect July 1, 2019 after Public Health Department officials have educated and trained apartment owners. The program will be funded by state Propositions 99 and 56.
Round Hill Police District Tax Hike Election Approved – A 150% Increase
The 1,296 registered voters in the unincorporated Round Hill area of Alamo, will have the opportunity to vote on whether the county should hike their property taxes from $330 per parcel to $812 per parcel in order to maintain two county sheriff’s deputies and a patrol car.
With no one speaking during the public speaking portion, supervisors approved on a 4-0 vote to have Round Hill residents vote in the June 5 election on whether to boost taxes on 739 parcels in order to raise $596,820 in tax revenue to cover increased patrol expenses on a yearly basis.
The measure will require two-thirds voter approval to pass during the June election.
Supervisors also approved, on a 4-0 vote, the acquisition of up to $2 million of solar panels to be installed over the 651 Pine Street parking lot for a 10-year period, Feb. 27, 2018 through Feb. 28, 2028. The county will buy the solar panels from ENGIE Services U.S. Inc. ENGIE Services will also install the solar panels.Read More
By Jimmy Lee, Director of Public Affairs, Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff
On Thursday, February 22, 2018, David J. LeValley, special agent in charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, announced the arrest of Jermaine Lee Hicks, 41, of Atlanta on outstanding arrest warrants in Contra Costa County, California. Hicks was taken into custody without incident at a residence on Ramsey Close in Southwest Atlanta
Hicks is a suspect in a triple shooting in North Richmond. On January 22, 2018, Deputies responded to a report of a shooting on the 500 block of Market Street in North Richmond. When Deputies arrived, they found three men suffering from gun-shot wounds. All were taken to a hospital and have since recovered.
Detectives from the Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff began investigating the case and later identified Hicks as the suspect in the shootings. The case was presented to the DA’s Office, which filed attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon charges against Hicks. An arrest warrant was issued for him.
At this time, Hicks is being held at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta awaiting extradition to Contra Costa County.
The public should be reminded that the above are merely allegations and that all persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Allen Payton contributed to this report.