A civil grand jury in Marin County has recommended that the county create a sheriff’s office oversight board after what it describes as a “strained” and distrustful relationship between law enforcement and residents in Marin City.

The report, entitled “Sheriff Oversight: The Time is Now,” was released June 15 and takes a deep dive into the history of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office and Black residents in the county.

The report and its recommendations were compiled in the wake of Assembly Bill 1185, passed in the fall of 2020, which allows counties to create citizens’ oversight boards. The jury pointed out that the job has previously fallen to the Marin County Board of Supervisors — though in some counties the sheriff answers to no one. Sheriffs are elected but do not report to any county official.

“While boards of supervisors have a general responsibility to supervise sheriffs, their ability to do so is limited and they lack subpoena power over the office of sheriff,” reads the jury’s report. “The office of sheriff thus combines enormous power with little accountability.”

The report begins with a snippet of Marin City’s history. Black families and individuals arrived there during the Great Migration during World War II to find work in the Sausalito Shipyard. After the war, Black residents were subject to red-lining that barred them from living in many areas of the county outside of Marin City.

About 35 percent of Marin City’s residents are either Black or multiracial, according to 2019 numbers cited in the jury’s report. Marin City is also unincorporated, meaning that the county sheriff is responsible for law enforcement there.

Strained relations

The relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and Black residents of Marin City has not been a good one, the report said. Residents call their town a “training ground” for new deputies and claim that they are overpoliced as a result. Excessive stops, arrests, citations and warnings are routine, Black residents told the jury.

Two incidents are outlined in the report that have especially strained the relationship. One occurred in November 2019 when an early morning raid took place in Marin City, with armored vehicles and “dozens” of heavily armed officers in tactical gear.

The Sheriff’s Office was looking for suspects in a shooting that happened in Orinda on Halloween, but school officials in Sausalito and Mill Valley told the jury that children arrived at school “traumatized” by the raid. Counselors had to be employed to help the students. The Sheriff’s Office said that the action we mostly carried out by the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, but the jury found that the Marin County sheriff could have done much more to mitigate the damage.

A second incident occurred when a “Trump Caravan” rolled into Marin City on Nov. 1, 2020. A vehicle convoy out of Santa Rosa made its way down through the North Bay, arriving in Marin City’s Gateway Shopping Center.

Residents said that they were met with racial epithets and had eggs thrown at them. The jury found that some voters felt intimidated to use a voting dropbox in the vicinity. Further, the county registrar of voters reported that it received calls about possible voter intimidation, which it turned over to the sheriff and the California Secretary of State.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors Racial Equity Subcommittee released a statement about the event, saying that such things will not be tolerated in the county.

Conflicting statements

The civil grand jury took a closer look at sheriff logs from that day and found inconsistencies between the timeline of reports in the sheriff’s dispatch data and public statements made by Sheriff’s Office personnel. Basically, the Sheriff’s Office stated publicly that they didn’t know that the caravan was coming until “minutes” before it arrived, yet sheriff’s logs show the agency being advised of its pending arrival beginning roughly four hours and thereafter before the Trump train’s arrival.

“The Trump caravan provides a good example of how a citizens oversight board could conduct a full investigation, examine the sheriff’s responses and provide a public forum where community concerns could be addressed,” reads the jury’s findings.

The jury called out Marin County as well, for repeatedly agreeing to create a sheriff’s office accountability apparatus and then never following through. In 1997, a racial harassment lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office resulted in a settlement that outlined that a portion of the fees go to create a police accountability program for Marin City.

“For reasons that are unclear, this accountability program was never created,” the jury said.

In 2006, a civil grand jury recommended to the Board of Supervisors that a sheriff review board be created. It was rejected by both the board and the sheriff.

The jury’s recommendation is concise: “By December 31, 2022, the Marin County Board of Supervisors should enact a county ordinance, pursuant to Assembly Bill 1185, creating a sheriff oversight board. The oversight board should be provided with subpoena power and subject to the Brown Act.”

The Marin County Sheriff’s Office was not immediately available for comment on the jury’s report.