The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has given approval for the sheriff to acquire more military equipment, while also calling for an independent investigation into alternative methods for ensuring compliance in state hospitals. The motion, presented by board president Susan Ellenberg, specifies that an independent auditor will report back in January with findings on the use of tear gas in jails and explore other strategies used by state hospitals and jails to ensure compliance, particularly with medication administration.
Santa Clara County is currently the only county in the Bay Area that utilizes tear gas in its jails, as revealed in a recent investigation by KTVU. Ellenberg, who is philosophically opposed to the use of military equipment in custodial settings, initially raised concerns about tear gas usage and convinced her peers to postpone the purchase of additional military equipment until further research was conducted.
Sheriff Bob Jonsen, in response to the concerns, emphasized the need for thoughtful and compassionate use of tear gas. He pledged to adhere to the recommendations provided by the OIR Group, which include improved documentation, the presence of supervisors during tear gas deployment, and consideration of individuals with respiratory issues.
The original audit conducted by the OIR Group deemed the use of tear gas to be within policy. However, community members pointed out that the auditor’s team did not interview any of the 17 individuals who were subjected to tear gas; their evaluation was based solely on body camera footage. The auditing team also faced challenges in comparing tear gas usage with other jails, as counties declined to share video and after-action reports.
Activists expressed their opposition to the use of tear gas, particularly on individuals with mental illnesses, calling it an inhumane tactic. In response to Ellenberg’s order, the auditor and the sheriff will review video footage of adjacent cells to ensure their evacuation during tear gas deployments. The sheriff has also been instructed to limit the use of “cell extractions” for non-emergency purposes.
This decision to purchase more military equipment follows the enactment of AB 481, which mandates transparency in the use of military equipment by law enforcement agencies and requires governing bodies to approve such purchases. The law also states that purchasing military equipment should only be approved if there are no reasonable alternatives to ensure the safety of officers and civilians.
1. KTVU Investigation on Santa Clara County’s Use of Tear Gas
2. AB 481: Transparency in Law Enforcement Equipment Act