County sanctuary law briefing turns contentious

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

​HUMBOLDT – A boilerplate report to Humboldt County supervisors on compliance with the Measure K sanctuary ordinance unexpectedly reopened debate on the local law’s effects.

​Sheriff’s Office officials reported on compliance with state and local sanctuary laws at the June 23 Board of Supervisors meeting. Measure K was approved by voters in 2018 and prohibits county employees from cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The directive includes the Sheriff’s Office, which is barred from detaining people for immigration violations

Past reports haven’t been contentious but recent attention to policing issues was reflected in a public comment session that followed Sheriff Billy Honsal’s reiteration of his past opposition of Measure K.

Supervisor Steve Madrone asked about it and about “what your feelings today are as compared to when the initiative was being pushed.”

“I stand by my previous statements,” Honsal responded, saying that if an “undocumented” person who has been “previously stopped at the border” commits a serious crime in the county, “They have a chance to bail out” under Measure K’s provisions.

“They could be gone, into our community,” he continued. “If I want to be able to secure this person and ICE would like to have them, I believe that it’s in the best interest of the safety of our community to turn this person over to (ICE), to make sure this person is held accountable.”

Adding that “I don’t have that option now,” Honsal said that in order for his office to contact ICE about a detainment, the person in question would have to have a previous conviction for a serious offense.

Supervisor Rex Bohn said Measure K “took a tool out of our law enforcement’s tool belt, for hardened criminals – not for non-violent, easy criminals,” adding, “I, for one, support our local enforcement for what they’re doing, especially in these trying times.”

The statements on Measure K were strongly objected to during the public comment session.

“This is totally disappointing and unacceptable that you’re implying that because of Measure K, our safety is at risk,” said Brenda Pérez of Centro Del Pueblo, which campaigned for the measure. “This is highly disappointing, coming from your authorities.”

To Bohn’s comments, she added, “We are not criminals so stop making the relationship between immigration and criminality – how many times are we going to hear that” and said that Measure K “stopped the police from harming our families by sending them to ICE.”

Another member of Centro Del Pueblo said sanctuary laws “aren’t for criminals, they’re for families,” adding that Honsal was “the most avid opposer” of Measure K and “his arguments were based on the criminalization of undocumented communities – as we saw right now.”

Other commenters called for the “demilitarization” of the Sheriff’s Office and alleged that it carries out “policies of violence.”

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Supervisors ventured some responses.

“When we’ve had these discussions in the past, the Sheriff’s Office has always reiterated its interest in protecting the community,” said Board Chair Estelle Fennell. “And to say that there have not been cases with very, very serious criminals who happened to be undocumented and apprehended in Humboldt County would be to deny history.”

Supervisor Mike Wilson encouraged an airing of various views on police issues. 

“I think we are in a place where we’re going to have more conversations about policy and funding as we move forward,” he said. “We’re just going to have to open more doors with these conversations and I’m looking forward to having them.”

​And they will be had. During an earlier, general public comment session, Caroline Griffith of the North Coast People’s Alliance community organizing group said there will be a push for “de-militarization” of the Sheriff’s Office during future budget discussions and a public Records Act request has been submitted to itemize the “weaponry and crowd control items” used by deputies.

There was also criticism of the Lexipol software program that the Sheriff’s Office and other agencies use as a policy reference tool. Commenters said the program includes outdated policies that are discriminatory and encourage excess use of force.

Honsal had said Lexipol is up to date and in compliance with all state policing laws and is adapted to include local laws like Measure K.

Supervisors began to discuss Lexipol further following public comment but county legal staff warned against that, saying it would go beyond the agenda topic’s scope.



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