Community activists brought an emotionally charged campaign to Alameda Supervisor Richard Valle’s Union City neighborhood on Sunday, demanding reversal of his recent vote to approve a three-year, $318 million spending package for Santa Rita Jail.
In a 19-minute video posted to social media by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Valle is seen in the center of a residential intersection faced by more than a dozen protestors, including families of three men who died while in custody at the county’s large jail facility in Dublin.
Six minutes into the video, a man, flanked by family members of the dead inmates, read into a loudspeaker a pledge he said the families asked Valle to sign.
“I, Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Richard Valle, pledge to stand with the community and rescind my vote on May 12, 2020, for new Santa Rita funding for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
The extra funding approved in a 3-2 vote last month is part of a mediated settlement to a class action lawsuit against the county and sheriff over conditions at Santa Rita. Supervisors Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley also supported the increased funding; Supervisors Wilma Chan and Keith Carson voted, ‘No.’
At the time, some social justice groups and mental health professionals urged supervisors to vote against the funding for Santa Rita and suggested alternative investments in the community could be both more effective and efficient.
The call to divest from the Santa Rita Jail is in tandem with the national discussion over shifting resources away from law enforcement and investing in youth programs and social services.
Valle, donning an Oakland A’s baseball cap, fluorescent yellow windbreaker and dark shades, appeared solemn as he stood facing a woman holding a poster board with the hand-written pledge. Protestors drew closer with cameras and cellphones trained on Valle.
After the reading, Valle raised his arms above his head and appeared to say something that was drowned out by cross-talk. When he declined to provide a yes or no answer, the crowd booed at him. A man not visible in the video shouted “then get the f— out of here.” Valle put on a blue face mask and slowly began to walk away; protestors cleared a wide path for Valle’s exit.
As he turned away, chants of “shame, shame, shame” were punctuated by the beating of a marching drum.
Earlier he said he only had seven minutes to spare and had to attend to his mother. Valle’s lives in the neighborhood where he grew up. His mother lives four houses away and has dementia. Valle is responsible for her care on Sundays.
As he reached the end of the intersection moving away from the crowd, Barbara Doss, rushed to Valle’s side. He stopped and listened as she shared grief over the loss of her son who died while incarcerated at Santa Rita.
She held a sign that said “Justice 4 Dujuan Armstrong”, “Rest in Power”, “#Justice4DujuanArmstrong” and “Hold (Alameda County Sheriff Gregory) Ahern Accountable!” At the center was a black and white photocopied portrait of a young father shoulder to shoulder with his son. The man in the photo was Dujuan Armstrong, Doss’ son.
On June 23, two years ago, Dujuan Armstrong was suffocated to death when sheriff’s deputies at Santa Rita put him in a restraint device and spit mask while attempting to transport him to an outpatient housing program. He was serving the second of nine weekends in the jail’s weekend inmate program.
According to a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Armstrong’s three minor children and Doss late last year, Armstrong exhibited clear symptoms of medical distress caused by ingesting drugs before reporting for his weekend commitment. Yet nearly 24 hours were allowed to elapse, as his condition worsened and his behavior in a holding cell became more erratic, before any attempts were made to provide medical care.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley’s declined to pursue criminal charges against the deputies involved, saying the evidence was insufficient.
Jose Jaime, the father of Christian Madrigal, 20, who died from serious injuries he sustained while being held at Santa Rita for booking on an intoxication charge last June, and Reanna Reyes, whose brother Raymond Reyes, 22, hanged himself with bed sheets last July after being kept in isolation for 19 days at the jail, also spoke during the protest.
On Monday, Valle said he had a “genuine understanding and empathy” for the speakers, and that he strongly supported their right to speak.
“There’s been a critical mass of frustration everywhere,” he said. “I will never step away from speaking from the public where there is pressure, whether it’s in the street in front of my house or at the podium.”
Valle said he supported the funding package based on an independent staffing analysis on the minimum level of custody staffing in Santa Rita Jail that is necessary for the jail to operate safely for both inmates and staff.
The study was agreed upon through mediation in a federal class action lawsuit against the county and sheriff’s office that alleges mentally ill inmates at Santa Rita were subjected to inadequate care at Santa Rita, in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.
Under the funding plan, about $84 million each year would go to the sheriff’s office and $22 million would go to Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services to gradually add more than 450 positions to the jail and increase funding for crisis intervention services to prevent suicides and improve inmate assessments, medication management and ongoing treatment.
“There’s a lot of pain in the community,” said Valle, a practicing Buddhist who said he chants every morning and evening for a better world. “It is my sincere hope, and faith that go hand-in-hand, that we will be in a better place in the near future.”
To view the full video, visit https://bit.ly/Indy_Video. To review the class action lawsuit alleging unconstitutional treatment of inmates with psychological disabilities, visit https://bit.ly/Indy_UnjustTreatment. To review the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Santa Rita Jail, Targeted Staffing Analysis, Final Report by Sabot Consulting, visit https://bit.ly/Indy_StaffingStudy.