Jail Guards Gone Rogue?

As Jail Conditions Fester, Two Sheriff’s Custody Deputies Face Assault Charges

Thursday, August 22, 2013
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Last week, after nearly two months of investigation by the Sheriff’s Office, two custody deputies were charged with assaulting a prisoner in the Santa Barbara County Jail on June 17. The Sheriff’s Office began looking into the incident when a public defender brought forward a complaint the day after the incident and turned evidence over to the District Attorney, which has accused the guards, Robert Kirsch and Christopher Johnson, of “assault by public officers.” The crime carries a maximum penalty of three years in County Jail.

Charles Alonzo Owens
Click to enlarge photo

Courtesy Photo

Charles Alonzo Owens

Johnson has worked as a corrections and custody officer in the Sheriff’s Office for eight years, and Kirsch for seven, plus another 14 months as a utility worker for the department. The alleged victim, Charles Alonzo Owens, “complained of pain to his upper torso and was taken to the hospital [eight days after the alleged attack] for medical examination,” according to Sheriff’s spokesperson Kelly Hoover. She said health privacy laws prohibited her from describing his injuries in more detail but that he returned to jail after a short hospital stay.

The deputies were not booked or detained. They are on paid administrative leave. When asked about prior complaints related to the deputies, Hoover said she could not comment on personnel matters. According to the Sheriff’s Policy Manual, “It is the policy of this department that deputies shall use only that amount of force that reasonably appears necessary, given the facts and circumstances perceived by the deputy at the time of the event, to effectively bring an incident under control.” According to prosecuting attorney Anthony Davis, the use of force becomes illegal when it exceeds reasonableness for a given situation. He could not comment on whether the incident in question was recorded.

Owens will stand trial for two combined cases on October 21. One was a 2007 gang-related shooting murder in Lompoc. The other is for “rape, sodomy, attempted oral copulation, domestic violence, and witness dissuasion with a gang allegation,” according to Hoover. Owens’s public defender did not return phone calls.

A recent report warned that staffing levels at the jail are dangerously low while its population is burgeoning with inmates being transferred from prison due to the AB109 prison realignment law. Commissioned by the Sheriff’s Office, Paso Robles–based Crout & Sida Criminal Justice Consultants, Inc., issued an analysis of staffing and shift patterns at the jail on January 31. The report recommended that, with current shift patterns, 27 new full-time employees would need to be hired “to safely operate the jail.” Even with tweaks to make shift patterns more efficient, Crout & Sida said 18 new staffers would be necessary.

“It must be noted AB109 (realignment),” the report reads, “has had, and will continue to have, a significant effect on the workload of the jail. Jail populations throughout the state are increasing as additional former state inmates flood the local facilities. In my opinion, because the Average Length of Stays for these former state inmates is much longer than the typical county inmate, the population level of Santa Barbara Jail System will not only continue to escalate, but the overall classification level of inmates will increase to a more serious level as well.”

Conditions for both inmates and staff have been stressful for many years. On Tuesday, the DA announced that Lorenzo Padilla, 28, admitted to attempting to murder a custody deputy at a holding facility in the Santa Maria Courthouse with a “shank” on October 13, 2011. This January, the County Jail was put on lockdown after an exercise yard fight, then again in April after inmates lit a trash can on fire, initiating a small riot. In July, inmates went on a hunger strike.

Of the attempted murder, District Attorney Joyce Dudley said in a statement, “This case illustrates the dangers of working with violent gang members in our jail and holding facilities. The custody officers must maintain constant vigilance for their own safety and the safety of others. We acknowledge and appreciate the dedication of the officers to protect those of us inside and outside our jail.”

After the charges against Kirsch and Johnson were announced, Sheriff Bill Brown said in a statement, “The behavior alleged in the criminal complaint is contrary to the high standards of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. I am saddened by these allegations that do not reflect the conduct and actions of the vast majority of the hundreds of men and women of the Sheriff’s Office, who dedicate their lives to protecting and serving others.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

With so many people needing jobs why hasn't the sheriff maintained sufficient staff to OPERATE A SAFE JAIL for staff and inmates a like?? It makes you wonder what's really going on in there.

Validated (anonymous profile)
August 22, 2013 at 11:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Good point Validated. We need more union custody deputies to protect the inmates from the existing custody deputies, If we had that, they never would have dared to assault this guy

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 22, 2013 at 11:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Not everyone is cut out for the job and the background is grueling. Obviously the reason is to prevent what has apparently happened. Doesn't happen often, but once is too many.

formersbso (anonymous profile)
August 22, 2013 at 11:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I guess Brown had to waste money on a private Paso Robles company to write a report because he refuses to acknowledge the recommendations of the mandatory county oversight agency - the SB Civil Grand Jury. Over 70% of incarcerated people aren't serving sentences, they're waiting for trial or for sentencing hearings. The population that's waiting for trial is almost entirely low-income inmates who can't afford bail. So Joyce Dudley asks for a bail amount, a judge sets bail based on the DA's recommendation, and those who can afford a bail bond pay it and are released until trial. Bail bond companies don't want lower bail, but it would reduce crowding that's largely based on county policy, not crime. There are dangerous criminals in county jail, there are also a lot of the above and also people serving jail sentences for technical violations, parole or probation violations, who could be in community-based programs rather than incarcerated.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
August 22, 2013 at 1:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Oh I get it! The union is responsible "[eight days after the alleged attack]". I bet the DA will use that in their theory of the case.... or you're just an idiot.

"The report recommended that, with current shift patterns, 27 new full-time employees would need to be hired “to safely operate the jail.” Even with tweaks to make shift patterns more efficient, Crout & Sida said 18 new staffers would be necessary."

Did you read the part where it says “to safely operate the jail.”? That's where my questions come from.

Are you a bit of a Teanderthal there Botany? Immediately associating anything to a union is in the first edition of "Tea Bagging for Idiots".


Validated (anonymous profile)
August 22, 2013 at 1:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Spare me the rhetoric and tell me how more personnel would have kept the staff from beating the stuffing out of this guy.

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 22, 2013 at 2:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

ALLEGEDLY beating the stuffing out of him.

The two duputies have only thus far been accused; you can put away the torches and pitchforks.

Sothep (anonymous profile)
August 22, 2013 at 10:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Can we assume then, Validated, that you'll be the first to propose tax increases to pay for all these new hot shots?

SezMe (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 2:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"Teanderthal" -- Now that's funny!

equus_posteriori (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 7:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

We need to spend billions on a new jail and these problems will NEVER happen. Not!

AZ2SB (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 3:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm curious about another thing. Several of the posters here are quick to ask for the removal of an agency head, like SBPD Chief Sanchez, for "Alledged" abuse, but not Sheriff Brown. Seems like that's because Chief Sanchez publicly states he'll wait for the completion of due process while Sheriff Brown tries to convict his own people in the press even before arraignment. Must really instill confidence with his Deputies. Sure keeps the cop haters off his back.

Looks like he needs to hire another 27 jail deputies. Who's in?

Validated (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 10:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I think you have it backwards Val. Sanchez protects his own at all costs despite a body of evidence that indicates otherwise. Sanchez doesn't just "wait" for due process, Sanchez has no process at all for investigating alleged wrongdoing by his officers.

At least Brown has some interest in running a clean department.

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 10:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Brown: "I am saddened by these allegations that do not reflect the conduct and actions of the vast majority...."

Politically non-committal, when you parse it, right?

Adonis_Tate (anonymous profile)
August 24, 2013 at 11:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

That's right. Maybe Sheriff Brown is afraid of being the next Sheriff Baca.

Validated (anonymous profile)
August 24, 2013 at 3:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Where are the mug shots of Kirsch and Johnson?
Wait, let me guess: it's against "policy" and the compliant SB press community buys that crap.
Bottom line: this is the puss bursting out of the hot pimple of ubiquitous Santa Barbara KORRUPTION.
Highest per capita level of "officer involved" shootings of any county in the state.
Highest per capita county jail inmate fatalities by "natural causes" in the state.
Aaron Tudor...
Kasie Beutel...
These two clowns, Johnson and Kirsch (who will never be seen in handcuffs, EVER)...
The list will only grow until the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor (hah!) actually DO SOMETHING about this toxic police state among the swaying palms...

Beachgirl77 (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2013 at 10:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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