By Linda Sutter
Recently, the Del Norte Triplicate published an article, Federal Inquiry Into Cop Actions, regarding two law enforcement officers who were caught on tape stealing money during a drug bust. Sheriff Apperson was quoted as saying, “It wasn’t from our agency,” in an effort to absolve the Sheriff’s Department from any wrongdoing. It is alleged that Pelican Bay State Prison allowed nine of their officers of the Specialized Emergency Response Team (S.E.R.T.) to service the warrant upon James Banuelos.
And while it may be true that two particular officers were not from the Sheriff’s department, Sheriff Apperson is ultimately responsible for allowing the SERT officers to play a roll in the warrant service and then seizure of property, and should be held responsible for their actions whether or not they are part of his department. He also knows Sheriff Deputy Detective Griffin’s history of abuse and allowed him to continue in a position of trust.
But the crime indicated by the Triplicate article was not the only alleged crime caught on tape that day. Crescent City Times.com also viewed the taped evidence and viewed Sheriff Deputy Detective Richard Griffin telling other officers to go ahead and break windows because County administrators will deny the claim.
This issue of corruption and abuse of power and the public trust can also be seen in the Dave Egan case (BlackHawk Pistol story) where 52 guns were confiscated but never logged by the officers or entered into evidence along with cash, gold coins, passport and more. Sheriff’s Deputy Griffin was there as well. How many more such cases are out there?
It is imperative that our newly elected Sheriff take his oath to serve and protect seriously and weed out the bad apples such as Griffin and all those under investigation by the FBI. We can’t fully trust in the rule of law when those who are in charge of enforcing it are also repeat offenders in breaking it.
Allegedly, Officer Matthew Yates, from the SERT team is one of the officers under investigation for stealing the money. Currently, Officer Yates has a gate stop at Pelican Bay. What that means is that his picture is posted at the front entrance of the prison so he cannot come on the grounds. In 2013, public records indicate the Officer Yates made a grand total of $146,824.82 between regular pay, overtime pay, “other pay” plus benefits.
Apparently, he could not live on that amount of money and felt it was necessary to allegedly steal $300 off Banuelos. Officer Yates may be collecting his salary while on administrative time off until this case is heard and resolved.
We haven’t researched policy and procedures for other counties yet, but find it impossible to believe that our Sheriff’s department would condone destruction of personal property because they know that the County administrators will deny the claim. Perhaps if the Officers responsible for the destruction of personal property were made to pay out of their own pocket for the repairs they would be more careful in their actions.
We, the taxpayers, citizens and residents, do not pay law enforcement to destroy property, place guns to our temples, shout “I’m going to blow your f***ing brains out,” and steal from us.
People make mistakes, some more than others. The punishment for their mistakes is prison or jail; not cruel and unusual punishment, not theft or destruction and certainly not threats of violence.
In the academy of correctional officers, you are trained from the get go that there is no “I” in team. You are placed in a company. Everyone is responsible for their company. If one screws up they all get punished. The Speciality Elite Correctional Officers of the S.E.R. T. team, should all pay the expense of one of their own. They should all be barred from their position on S.E.R.T. for failing as team members.
It should be noted that Pelican Bay State Prison’s Public Information Officer, Chris Acosta, could not be reached for comment regarding the issue at hand.