Good Dog and Good Luck

Sure glad I didn’t step in it

Sometimes you don’t have to go to Burger King to get fed a whopper. Sometimes the County Supervisors’ chambers will do just fine. I was only half paying attention last week when I heard Sheriff Jim Anderson announce that jail overcrowding had gotten so bad, his jailers were forced to release an inmate being held on $1 million bail. Typically, those held on this amount comprise an elite club whose membership is reserved for the baddest of the bad. Typically, it means you killed somebody, and not just in a fit of pique. This was the sort of explosive revelation engineered to penetrate the torpor of anybody’s lassitude. Certainly it got my attention. But then mysteriously, Sheriff Jim just moved on to his next point. No gory details were provided, no explanation offered. Amazingly not one of the supervisors asked any questions. Anderson dropped this bombshell to buttress arguments that he needed—and deserved—nearly half of the $8 million the county had just received from the state as a one-time windfall. That’s a lot of money for which there’s intense competition. The sheriff asked the supervisors to give him $3 million plus change to buy the old Laguna Sanitation District property just outside of Orcutt, where he hoped to build a desperately needed North County jail. (That’s just to buy the land. The jail will cost several hundred million dollars to construct, and even more to operate. Where that money will come from, no one really knows.)

To his credit, Sheriff Anderson used the term “North County jail” despite 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray’s strongly stated aversion to the phrase. She said it reflected poorly on North County residents, as if they somehow needed jailing more than other county residents. In point of fact, they do. It turns out 55 percent of the people locked behind county bars hail from the North County. Where this north-south thing is concerned, I suspect Supervisor Gray is suffering from a serious psychological disorder. I say this because during the same meeting, Gray accused South County residents of thinking they’re smarter than people who live in the north, and she was plenty steamed about it. This is so untrue. People in the south think they’re smarter and better than everybody. While Joni is busy nursing her regional grudges, she might consider who will pay for the new North County jail if the much-heralded county split were to pass next year. The Chumash Casino, which is now plastering its promo stickers on the sheriff’s helicopter and search-and-rescue vehicles? Ty Warner? It sure won’t be the property taxes collected in the south, where most of the county’s revenues come from.

But the sheriff got me curious. Who was this million-dollar bailer? What dastardly crimes did he commit? And what reign of terror was he about to unleash upon the good citizens of Gotham because of inadequate detention facilities? It took a while to find out, but his name is Jorge Cisneros, he lives in Santa Maria, and he just turned 22. According to Santa Maria Police Lt. Larry Ralston, Cisneros was apprehended by authorities on August 25 for stealing tires off a car, presumably while it was not moving. This is a misdemeanor, by the way. He was also charged for giving the cops a false name. And it turns out he had a few outstanding warrants for other misdemeanor offenses for which he was a no-show. They involved drunk driving, a hit-and-run, and an assault. Ralston was not familiar with the details. The most glaring fact about all the charges leveled against Mr. Cisneros is the conspicuous absence of any felonies. And for this, a $1 million bail? What gives?

Sheriff spokesperson Sgt. Erik Raney speculated that Cisneros may have been involved in a drug-diversion program overseen by Judge Rogelio Flores, who imposed the million-dollar bail in the first place. It turns out that the sheriff and the judges have been playing a game of cat-and-mouse with those sentenced to diversion programs. When divertees screw up—as they frequently do—judges like to toss them into the hoosegow to get their attention. But the sheriff, lacking any spare broom-closet space into which they can be stuffed, releases them to the streets. The judges respond by imposing ridiculously disproportionate bails designed to intimidate the jailers into keeping these offenders locked up. The fact is, things have gotten seriously tight in the jails. Ralston explained that he and other law enforcement officials around the county just got a letter from the sheriff saying the county jail would no longer accept anyone charged with anything less than a felony except in certain instances, such as wife beating and drunk driving. As with UCSB, the admissions requirements are getting tougher. It’s hardly a new problem; judges and jailers have been grappling with this since the late ’70s. It’s just getting worse. Part of the problem is more people. Part of it is more laws. And part is stiffer sentences. I doubt there’s a politician alive who lost for being too tough on crime. As a result, America now boasts a prison population of 2.3 million, and Santa Barbara County is doing its part.

As to our million-dollar bailer Mr. Cisneros, the story is far more complicated than Sheriff Anderson indicated. Cisneros, it turns out, was not flattered by his high bail amount. He petitioned the courts for a reduced amount and won. In fact, he got his bail reduced all the way down to $10,000. So in fact, the sheriff did not “release” a million-dollar bailer. And as for the alleged “release,” that’s bogus too. In fact, Mr. Cisneros still sits in the Santa Barbara jail and will stay there for some time. Because there are issues regarding Cisneros’s citizenship, the sheriff released him to the Department of Homeland Security, which took over where the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) left off. Until the INS decides what to do with Cisneros, he remains exactly where he is. Technically, he’s under their jurisdiction. Physically, he remains in the county jail.

All I can say is, it’s a good thing for the sheriff that I like whoppers. But next time he wants to serve one up, maybe he should put less musta

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