Supes: Citizens committee may have ‘mission drift’

A biting resignation letter has caused the Board of Supervisors to question whether the county’s Law Enforcement Liaison Committee is going beyond its scope of work.

Former Sheriff Deputy Pete Ciarabellini’s letter of resignation from the committee accompanied a letter of appreciation from the board on the consent agenda of its May 28 meeting. In his letter, Ciarabellini apologizes for resigning after a “short tenure” and explains that “it did not take long to see the true mission of this committee.”

The way Ciarabellini sees it, that mission is “to create a forum for yet another layer of unnecessary review of perceived, and in some cases, fabricated misconduct by law enforcement officers charged to protect and serve the citizens of Humboldt County.”

He adds, “The emphasis seems to be on finding fault and misconduct and creating a forum to encourage complaints.” Ciarabellini had stated earlier in the letter that he believes the committee’s actual responsibility is to “inform the citizens of policies and procedures adopted by the sheriff and the county to address complaints.”

Supervisor Rex Bohn pulled the item from the consent agenda and said the letter “disturbed” him. He’s concerned that the committee’s “going off its path.”

Responding to the resignation letter’s description of the Grand Jury and other independent review processes as appropriate complaint response mechanisms, Supervisor Mark Lovelace suggested that it shouldn’t be surprising that the committee is also handling complaints.

“One of the reasons for establishing this was to offer an opportunity for dialogue that doesn’t rise to that level,” he said. “When you get to the Grand Jury or the Attorney General or the DA investigating these issues – if we can avoid things getting to that level, we should.”

But Supervisor Virginia Bass, who appointed Ciarabellini to the committee, recommended that other supervisors talk to their appointees because the group “may not be what all of us were anticipating.”

Supervisors agreed that the committee’s purpose and protocols should be discussed in a future agenda item. “I m a little concerned, given this letter, if that is the case with this committee, that there’s been a bit of mission drift,” said Supervisor Estelle Fennell.  “That’s what we might want to look into and talk with people about.”

When Lovelace cautioned not to assume there’s a need for a future discussion based on the contents of “one letter, from one member of the committee,” Board Chairman Ryan Sundberg described Ciarabellini as a trustworthy source.

“Most of us know Pete, though, and know him to be a very honest and open person,” he said.

“We do need to agendize it,” Bohn said, referring to a review of the committee’s work. He added that he’s been to the committee’s meetings and his own observations match Ciarabellini’s  “I’ve been to three or four meetings and it is something that needs to be addressed,” said Bohn. “I’ve seen it firsthand and to get verification on this from Pete Ciarabellini, I appreciate it.”

He’s read the resolution establishing the committee “from top to bottom” and, expressing agreement with the term “mission drift,” he added, “I think they’ve drifted away from that and I think we need to address it before they get any farther away from base camp.”

Supervisors approved the appreciation letter and agreed to review the committee’s work at a future meeting.

Though the resolution on the committee was approved in 2010, the committee only recently reached its full complement of seven members. Including Ciarabellini, five of its members have been appointed by currently serving supervisors and two are appointees of the sheriff and the county’s sheriff deputies union.

Maggie Herbelin of the county’s Human Rights Commission is a member of the liaison committee and is acting as its coordinator, as a chairman hasn’t been selected yet.  She wasn’t at the supervisors meeting and declined to comment on Ciarabellini’s letter because a discussion on it will be on the agenda of the committee’s June meeting.

The 2010 resolution states that the committee’s purpose includes “working with the county Sheriff’s Office and members of the public to address potential public concerns,” with the option of recommending investigations by an “independent auditor” into specific incidents, subject to approval by the county sheriff.

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