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Attorney General Bonta Opens Civil Rights Investigation into Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced the launch of a civil rights investigation into the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office (SCCSO). The investigation will seek to determine whether SCCSO has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct amidst deeply concerning allegations relating to conditions of confinement in its jail facilities, resistance to lawful oversight, and other misconduct.

“Public safety is built on trust,” said Attorney General Bonta. “When communities feel they are treated fairly and equitably by law enforcement, it increases trust and that in turn contributes to increased public safety. However, it is clear that there is a lack of trust in Santa Clara County as a result of deeply concerning allegations around county jail facilities and other misconduct. These concerns have been repeatedly voiced by elected leaders, editorial boards, community members, and more. Bottom line: Public institutions are subject to public oversight. That’s why the California Department of Justice is launching a pattern or practice investigation into the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. We will be thorough and impartial in our efforts to ensure that the civil rights of the people of Santa Clara County are respected.”

Under the California Constitution and California Civil Code section 52.3, the Attorney General is authorized to conduct civil investigations into whether a law enforcement agency has engaged in a pattern or practice of violating state or federal law. As opposed to a criminal investigation into an individual incident or incidents, a pattern or practice investigation typically works to identify and, as appropriate, compel the correction of systemic violations of the constitutional rights of the community at large by a law enforcement agency. With regard to SCCSO, the Attorney General has made no determinations at this time about specific complaints or allegations or about the agency’s policies and practices.

As interaction and cooperation with the community is at the core of law enforcement’s work to provide public safety and create public trust, the Attorney General encourages anyone with information relevant to this investigation to contact the California Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section at Police-Practices@doj.ca.gov. Members of the public may also send information to the California Department of Justice in Spanish and other languages.* During the course of the investigation, attorneys and special agents at the California Department of Justice will work diligently to consider all relevant information, including from community members and organizations, local officials, oversight entities, SCCSO, individual officers, and more.

Attorney General Bonta is committed to strengthening trust between local law enforcement and the communities they serve as one key part of the broader effort to increase public safety for all Californians. Last month, the Attorney General launched an independent review of the Torrance Police Department amidst allegations of excessive force, racist text messages, and other discriminatory misconduct. In August 2020, Attorney General Bonta secured a stipulated judgment against the Bakersfield Police Department requiring an extensive range of actions to promote public safety and strengthen oversight and accountability systems in Bakersfield. In May 2020, Attorney General Bonta established the Racial Justice Bureau within the Civil Rights Enforcement Section to, among other things, help address issues of implicit and explicit bias in policing. In July, the Attorney General launched the Office of Community Awareness, Response, and Engagement to directly engage with and respond to the needs of communities and organizations across California.

*Miembros del público también pueden enviar al departamento de justicia de California información en español y otros idiomas. Para leer este comunicado de prensa en español, haz clic sobre "Traducir Sitio Web" que está ubicado por la parte superior de esta página en la versión en línea.