Public safety adrift - Page 5

At this pivotal moment for law enforcement, will Newsom and his top deputies continue to let politics guide policy?
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Illustration by Jason Crosby

Internal communications obtained by the Guardian through the Sunshine Ordinance show efforts by the Newsom administration to contain the political damage from reports of undocumented immigrants who escaped from city custody.

Newsom solidly supported the Sanctuary City Ordinance during his first term, as evidenced by an April 2007 e-mail that aide Wade Crowfoot sent to probation leaders asking for written Sanctuary City protocols. But these demands may have drawn unwelcome attention.

"This is what caused the firestorm regarding undocumented persons," JPD Assistant Chief Allen Nance wrote in August 2008 as he forwarded an e-mail thread that begins with Crowfoot's request.

"Agreed," replied probation chief William Siffermann. "The deniability on the part of one is not plausible."

Shortly after Ryan started his MOCJ gig, the Juvenile Probation Department reached out to him about a conflict with ICE. They asked if they could set up something with the U.S. Attorney's Office but the meeting got canceled and Ryan never rescheduled it.

Six weeks passed before the city was hit with the bombshell that another San Francisco probation officer had been intercepted at Houston Airport by ICE special agents as he escorted two minors to connecting flights to Honduras. They threatened him with arrest.

"Special Agent Mark Fluitt indicated that federal law requires that we report all undocumenteds, and San Francisco Juvenile Court is vioutf8g federal law," JPD's Carlos Gonzalez reported. "Although I was not arrested, the threat was looming throughout the interrogation."

Asked to name the biggest factors that influenced Newsom's decision to shift policy, mayoral spokesperson Nathan Ballard cites a May 19 meeting in which Siffermann briefed the mayor about JPD's handling of undocumented felons on matters related to transportation to other countries and notification of ICE.

"That morning Mayor Newsom directed Siffermann to stop the flights immediately," Ballard told the Guardian. "That same morning the mayor directed Judge Kevin Ryan to gather the facts about whether JPD's notification practices were appropriate and legal. By noon, Judge Ryan had requested a meeting with ICE, the U.S. Attorney, and Chief Siffermann to discuss the issue. On May 21, that meeting occurred at 10:30 a.m. in Room 305 of City Hall."

Ballard claims Ryan advised the mayor that some of JPD's court-sanctioned practices might be inconsistent with federal law and initiated the process of reviewing and changing the city's policies in collaboration with JPD, ICE, the U.S. Attorney, and the City Attorney.

Asked how much Ryan has influenced the city's public safety policy, Ballard replied, "He is the mayor's key public safety adviser."

Records show Ryan advising Ballard and Ginsburg to "gird your loins in the face of an August 2008 San Francisco Chronicle article that further attacked the city's policy. "Russoniello is quoted as saying, "This is the closest thing I have ever seen to harboring,'" Ryan warned.