Don’t blame it on Onek


Text by Sarah Phelan

David Onek is a San Francisco Police Commissioner and founding executive director of the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice.

When the Board voted to support due process for all youth, a few weeks ago, the ever irascible h. brown went off on one of his infamous rants, this time targeting the SFPD in general and San Francisco Police Commissioner David Onek, in particular.

“Isn’t there a police commissioner named David Onek who created a half million dollar program to milk this cow, then resigned from the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice so that his firm could grab a third of it?” brown ranted. “Write about Onek. Too hot a potato?”

I don’t normally reply to Brown’s comments, but this time they got my attention because I recently unearthed communications in a public records request related to an investigation into the city's criminal justice department that show that Brown’s claims—namely that Onek created a MOCJ grant program and benefited financially from it—are not only false, but also resemble unsourced claims in a August 2008 Chronicle article.

As such, these claims deserve to be addressed, even if some pieces of this particular MOCJ puzzle are still missing.

So, I went back, reviewed the MOCJ records again, and tried to piece together what really happened—for the sake of brown, Onek and anyone else involved in this saga, which appears to have been driven by anti-immigrant hate mongers, has harmed countless immigrant families, and lead to the Board’s support of due process for all.

In his August 3 article, Chronicle crime reporter Jaxon Van Derbeken sought to prove that while working in Newsom’s MOCJ, Onek created a grants program that helped what Van Derbeken described as “illegal immigrants in the juvenile justice system.”

(The back story here is that, at the time of Van Derbeken’s article, the US Attorney for Northern California, Joseph Russoniello, was trying to make the case that the city has shielded “young illegal immigrants from possible deportation,” (the Chron’s words), by, amongst other things, granting $650,000 to aid “teen felons who are illegals.”(the Chron's words, again.)

In his article, Van Derbeken wrote that, “The grant proposal was suggested by David Onek, then the second-in-command of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. Newsom recently named him to the Police Commission. From 1999 to 2002, before joining the mayor's office, Onek was a staff attorney for Legal Services for Children - one of the agencies that the mayor's office later selected to receive grant money. The nonprofit took in more than $164,000 in city money from 2006 to 2008 to help illegal immigrants in the juvenile justice system, city records show. Onek declined to comment last week, noting that he no longer works for the mayor's office.”

Asked about Van Derbeken’s claims—especially the claim that Onek suggested the grant program and then, seemingly declined to comment about it, Onek told the Guardian that Van Derbeken never asked who created the program and whether the program where Onek now works as founding executive director, the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice, benefited financially from these grants.

Instead, Van Derbeken wanted background dirt, Onek said, adding that that was why he declined to comment.

But if Van Derbeken had asked, says Onek, who has a history of working to improve fairness and equity in the juvenile justice system, he would have replied, no, he didn’t create the program; no, he was no longer working at LSC when it did receive the grant; and no, the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice, where he currently works, has never received a dime as a result of MOCJ's grants to organizations that help undocumented youth grants.

Onek did include some of these clarifications in a August 4, 2008 letter that he sent to the Mayor’s Office last summer, and that is included at the end of this post.

Onek’s August 2008 letter surfaced in my MOCJ public records request as part of a chain of communications that took place between folks in the Mayor’s Office during a 56-hour period, starting Sunday, August 3, 2008, shortly after Derbeken’s article and a companion piece by Chron columnists Matier and Ross—hit the newsstands and heightened the anti-immigrant rhetoric locally and nationwide.

To put them in a more politically precise context, these communications occurred a month after Newsom announced he was exploring a gubernatorial run, three weeks after Newsom named Onek to the police commission, and three months before the 2008 presidential election.

I did not have space in my print version of this story to include this exchange, but now that Onek is being blamed all over again, and Newsom has confirmed that he is officially running for governor, I decided to post this exchange in its entirety, since it gives some pretty good insights into what’s happening inside MOCJ vand beyond, last summer, and raises interesting questions as to where Newsom would stand on immigration if he were elected as governor.

Sunday, August 3, 7:05 a.m.
Mayoral spokesperson Nathan Ballard emails MOCJ director Kevin Ryan:
“Judge Ryan, please prepare two things for MGN (mayor Gavin Newsom) for Monday: Work with Adrienne [Pon] on a point by point rebuttal of anything inaccurate in Jaxon’s article about our efforts to provide counseling etc, to undocumented felons. Do a final edit on the executive directive so the terminology is more consistent with the past e.d’s. e.g. ‘undocumented felon’ instead of ‘criminal alien.’”

August 3, 9;44 a.m.
MOCJ director Kevin Ryan emails Ballard.
“Will do, didn’t know about matier and ross piece.”

August 3, 10:09 a.m.
Ballard replies to Ryan.
“I learned late in the day, should have called you. Sheriff kind of laid out SFPD.”

August 3, 10:11 a.m.
Ryan replies to Ballard.
“Did onek ever call and tell anyone not going to comment? I had heard thru the grapevine that he had been contacted, not that he was not going to defend the program he apparently designed.”

August 3, 10:18 a.m.
Ballard replies to Ryan.
“He made the mess. Now we have to clean it up.”

August 3, 10:30 a.m.
Ballard Emails Sheriff, ccs Eileen Hirst and Ginsburg
Subject: Ramos fax
"Sheriff Hennessey, I just got off the phone with the Mayor. He asked me to ask you if you would please provide him with some kind of evidence—a fax receipt? A copy of a form? A fax log?—that he could point to as evidence that you referred Ramos to ICE while he was still in your custody. As you know, the Mayor has been strongly defending the fact that you referred Ramos to ICE while Ramos was still in your custody—a fact that ICE disputes. In this ongoing controversy over sanctuary city, the Mayor has publicly taken your side of the issue many times. He is asking for some kind of documentary evidence to strengthen his statements of support,"

August 3, 10.46 a.m.
Ryan emails Ballard
Subject: Re: two things for Monday

Monday, August 4, 11:18 a.m.
Adam Gomolin emails Ryan
Subject: Bookings of Martinez
"Judge—notes from talk with Eileen Hirst below. Apologies that some of the court proceedings notes are so basic—not stuff I know.
Of further note, EH hinted rather obliquely that Nate Ballard is on his own investigatory expedition and is unaware of conversations you have had with Sheriff and EH. She seemed to suggest catching him up.”

August 4, 11.18 a.m.
Ryan replies to Gomolin, ccs Ballard
Subject: Re: bookings of Martinez
“Is there a hold now?”

August 4, 11:27 a.m.
Gomolin emails Ryan
Subject Re: Bookings of Martinez
“He has an ICE hold. It took them 13 days. July 14 he offended. July 17 he had a court appearance, likely arraignment. On July 18 the classification interview took place and ICE was notified. ICE did not place a hold on him until 13 days alter. Coincidentally, this was 20 minutes after EH spoke with Andy Ross.”

August 4, 11:42 a.m.
Subject: Re: Bookings of Martinez
Ryan emails Gomolin, ccs Ballard.
“Please print all relevant emails on this and put in a folder.”

August 4, 11.44 a.m.
Eileen Hirst of Sheriff’s Office emails Ballard, ccs Sheriff Michael Hennessey, Ginsburg, Ryan and Gomolin.
Subject Re: Ramos fax.
There has been so much communications between this office and Phil, Kevin Ryan and his staff on this issue that I am not sure what you know and don’t know, so I am starting at the beginning. Notification to ICE of individuals in our custody who may be undocumented has developed over time and has been somewhat informal in nature. In the early 90s for example., ICE agents came into the jails regularly to pick up copies of arrest information placed in a box on the booking counter by arresting police officers. That has evolved into faxes sent by Sheriff’s classification officers in each shift, three times a day, to an ICE fax machine. Notification is occasionally made by phone. We routinely retained copies of those faxes for 30 days, as this notification is not required by law and therefore, not a record we are required to retain. We fax and receive thousands of documents a year. When the dispute over the notification to ICE of Edwin Ramos’ March booking arose, we changed the records retention policy and now keep faxes of notification to ICE for one year. Both the Sheriff and I have been interviewed in this subject and there has been at least one article written on it."
"We would prefer to communicate with ICE via teletype, which creates an electronic record, but at ICE’s request, we use fax communications."
"We first notified ICE of Mr. Ramos’ presence when he was booked into custody on march 30, Mr. Ramos was arrested with a co-defendant at the same time and on nearly the same charges, While we no longer have the fax that was sent to ICE, Ucde placed a hold on the co-defendant within hours of the arrest. Such notifications are routine. There is no reason to believe that ICE was not notified about Mr. Ramos, and in fact, in one of the early articles about the subject, it seems as if ICE acknowledges that they completed the paperwork for a detainer, but failed to send it to us."
"The second notification, the one that ICE now says is the only communication they received, was the inquiry sent by us to determine if we could claim federal reimbursement under the SCAAP (State Criminal Alien Assistance Program) for housing Mr. Ramos during his March-April retention. The Sheriff’s Department has one deputy sheriff whose job it is to research and compile our SCAAP claims. Such inquiries do not need to be made while the individual is in custody. The response we received, a copy of which has been shared with Kevin Ryan, says two things: First, it states unequivocably that “this is not a government detainer” and it says that ICE has already started removal proceedings."
"Even if we had received that document while Mr. Ramos was in custody, we could not have held him for ICE pickup because it was not a retainer."
"After Mr. Ramos was released on April 2, ICE could have issued an ICE warrant, an they could have detained him themselves on that warrant, All indications are that they knew where he lived, where he worked, and where his wife and mother-in-law and child lived, he has made application for US citizenship and was well known to ICE.
One of the documents I gave to Adam Gomolin to assist in preparation of the Mayor’s briefing book was a 2005 memo detailing for the custody division staff our procedures regarding ICE reporting. It is worth noting that the procedures were worked out with, and agreed to, by ICE. Furthermore, the US Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General issued an audit in January 2007, which found that while many jurisdictions receiving SCAAP money made no ICE notifications, San Francisco does cooperate in the referral of undocumented individuals.
As I mentioned above, we have improved our record keeping on ICE communication. We are now keeping not just numbers picked up,but numbers and names of individuals referred and picked up., I’m attaching a document showing who has been delivered to ICE by us for the period July 9 through July 25. I am also attaching the numbers of ICE pcikups for the 18 month period we have been referencing."
"In the interests of unity, Nate, when I spoke with Andy Ross, the subject of how Chief Fond runs her department did not come up. I was explaining to Andy our procedures regarding the Sanctuary Ordinance and her authority under which law enforcement officers act in this regard, I referred him specifically to Sec. 12 H-2-1 of the SF Admin Code, which provides the pertinent part: “Nothing in this chapter shall prohibit, or be construed as prohibiting, a law enforcement officer from identifying and reporting any person pursuant to state or federal law or regulation who is in custody after being booked for the alleged commission of a felony and who is suspected of violating the civil provisions of the immigration laws.” You will notice there are no quotation marks around what Any says I said. I cannot be responsible for Timmy Hettrich spending his retirement working out his grievances against the Chief Of Police."

August 4, 12:11 p.m.
The New York Times’ Jessie McKinley (San Francisco Bureau Chief) emails Nathan Ballard.
Subject: sanctuary follow…
When, realistically, do you expect Ed Lee and Kevin Ryan to come back to you with recommendations on sanctuary, and what’s plan for coverage? NY wants a folo and I’m trying to figure the peg, timings etc."

August 4, 12:32 p.m.
Ballard emails Ryan
Subject Fw: sanctuary follow…
“What, in your view, should I tell him?”

August 4, 12:52 p.m.
Ryan emails Ballard
Subject Re: Sanctuary follow
“The ED is ready now, he just needs to sign off, if that is how he wants to go. We are reviewing each department’s policies and coming up with recommendations, which may take a few weeks. Then we have the larger issues---going back to old but active cases, grants etc could take weeks to do it all at once, or if we roll it out piecemeal, different times.”

August 4, 3:01 p.m.
Pon emails Ryan, ccs Cheu, Ginsburg and Maya Smith
Subject: fact check on Jaxon Van Derbeken’s article.
"Judge—still looking through this, Brian, Maya and Zoe have more details.
Article uses facts in wrong context.
Category of 'monolingual undocumented' used in 2006 no longer in use.
Majority of individuals are not undocumented—purpose of grants are not to 'harbor' but reduce crime and delinquency, esp. among juveniles.
Previous program plans identified service gaps for emergency shelter programs for groups such as undocumented youth, girls and youth with mental health issues, this is he only place that referenced the undocumented There is no language about using funds to aid 'illegal criminals.'
Program descriptions refer to all juvenile offenders, not specifically to undocumented.
Discretionary funding grant program goal to further 'the city’s proud tradition as a haven for immigrants': can’t find this language at place, but most immigrants are neither illegal nor criminal. Us Attorney saying that this is as close to harboring is false and inflames anti-immigrant sentiment.
re FY 2008-09 re grants to two non profits, Legal Services for Children and Mission Neighborhood Centers under categories of diversion programs and detention alternatives. Neither category is to aid undocumented criminals—Jaxon’s statements are misleading."

August 4, 12:37 p.m.
Jim Molinari from Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office emails Kevin Ryan.
Subject: Sanctuary
“Kevin do you have a copy of the original legislation from 1985 DF has no recollection”

August 4, 1:44 p.m.
Subject Re: sanctuary
Ryan replies to Molinari
“Sent it via fax.”

August 4, 2:35 p.m.
Maria Celia Flores at the Latino Issues Forum emails Newsom a copy of a letter from Nora Vargas, executive director of the Latino Issue Forum, a Public Policy and Advocacy Institute.
“I recognize that taking a stance on immigration during a time when it is fueled with political turmoil takes a lot of courage and as such, deserves great commendation. I am also aware that for the last few weeks you administration has been under intense pressure for you to take a hard-line on the issue of undocumented youth in the juvenile justice system."
"We urge the City to reject a one-size-fits-all approach that treats all immigrant youth as dangerous criminals.”
“As you draft a new policy on this issue, I urge you to continue advocating for a just judicial system, one were [sic] individuals are judged by their actions and not by their national origin. I realize that you must make some difficult decisions. At a minimum, I hope that you uphold the due process rights of all youth to contest charges that are brought against them. Notifying ICE about undocumented youth , when these youth have not been afforded the right to be heard or contest charges against them, is unjust. The Decision to notify ICE can have irrevocable consequences for youth and their families, particularly those who have been mistakenly arrested.”
“I also urge the City to consider the individual circumstances of youth—for example, to consider whether youth may be victims themselves or have been successfully rehabilitated and turned their lives around. Responsible juvenile justice policy has long focused on and should continue to focus on child-welfare issues and not on federal immigration enforcement. In particular, there is a real danger that probation officers or other juvenile justice stakeholders, who are not immigration law experts, could erroneously conclude that a youth does not have lawful status and refer a youth to immigration agents for deportation.
While it must be difficult to face so much pressure in the pres, my hope is that you continue to stand on the side of our City’s and state’s values. You have been a leader in the fight for marriage equality, even in the face of vocal opposition. Standing with immigrants may be challenging in this current environment. But, I believe that it is the right thing to do and will pay tremendous dividends in the future for all those who are willing to stand with our community.”

August 4, 2:40 p.m.
David Miree in Mayor’s Office forwards Vargas’ letter to Mike Farrah, CCs Alfredo Pedroza, Liaison to D9 & 11 and the Latino Community

August 4, 3:08 p.m.
David Onek emails Newsom, Ginsburg, Kawa, Trent Rhorer, Ryan, Nancy Kirshner-Rodriguez, Ballard and Lee
Ccs Nance, Simonelli, Trisha Prashad, Dee Schexnayder,
Subject: Follow Up on Chronicle Story
“Dear Mayor Newsom, Phil, Steve, Trent, Nancy, Nate, Ed and Kevin.
"I thought I would sent this to all of you because I wasn’t certain who would be the most appropriate person to receive it."
"I want to make sure you are all aware of an inaccuracy in the story in the Sunday Chronicle. The story states that 'the grant proposal was suggested by David Onek.' This is simply not true. Allen Nance, who was Director of MOCJ at the time (and is cc’ed on this e-mail) can attest to that. I have no idea where the reporter got this information from. I talked to Allen this morning and he said any of you should feel free to follow up with him about this if it would be helpful."
"I also want to make you aware of the fair, transparent processes by which grantees were selected. Outside experts from law enforcement, academia and the community read and scored grant proposals. Legal Services for Children’s proposal received the highest score by far from the outside experts for the category for which they received funding."
"If I can be helpful on this issue in any way going forward, please let me know.
Many thanks.”

August 4, 5 p.m.
Molinari replies to Ryan.
Subject Re Sanctuary

Tuesday, August 5, 7:44 a.m.
Kevin Ryan emails David Onek, Newsom, Ginsburg, Kawa, Trent Rhorer, Nancy Kirshner-Rodriguez, Ballard and Lee
Ccs Nance, Simonelli, Trisha Prashad, Dee Schexnayder,
Subject: Re: Follow Up on Chronicle Story
“Thank you for the update.”

August 5, 8:07 a.m.
Jim Molinari (Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office) emails Kevin Ryan.
Subject Re: Sanctuary
“Nothing but trouble.”

August 5, 10:02 a.m.
Anabel Simonelli, confidential assistant to Mayor Gavin Newsom emails Ballard, Ryan.
Subject Re: Follow Up on Chronicle Story
‘Per MGN: “Get my list of people that reviewed this” (he circled the third paragraph below). Can either one of you send this to me ASAP? Thanks!”

August 5, 10:18 a.m.
Ryan forwards Simonelli’s email to Gomolin.
Subject: Fw: Follow Up on Chronicle Story
“Can you check on this”

August 5, 10:26 a.m.
Ryan emails Jim Molinari at Dianne Feinstein’s Office.
Subject Re: Sanctuary
“You might want to try and find a letter sent by Mayor Feinstein dated 12?26/85 to the board concerning the subsequent ordinance. We do not have a copy, but it is referenced in a letter by then USA Russoniello to the Board.”

August 5, 10: 48 a.m.
Ryan emails Molinari.
Subject: Re: sanctuary
“Will send others this am. Fyi, all on line at sfgate.”

August 5, 10.52 a.m.
Molinari replies to Ryan.
Subject Re: sanctuary
“OK we are expecting Ques on this we are going to see his noibs on thurs to talk Treasure Isl but I suspect this might come up and then we are in Sacto nect Tues and it will come up.”

August 5, 11:01 a.m.
Ryan emails Molinari.
Subject. Re: sanctuary
“Looks like the senator, Jordan, and Agnos had all signed off at one point or another.”

August 5, 11:03 a.m.
Molinari emails Ryan.
Subject Re: sanctuary
“Yes but that 1st is benign she forgot about it”

August 5, 11: 06 a.m.
Ryan emails Moilnari.
“First was the resolution, the ordinances came later with several modifications.”

August 5, 12.15 p.m.
Francisco Ugarte, Immigration Rights attorney with the San Francisco Immigrant Legal & Education Network emails Newsom, ccs to Ed Lee and Phil Ginsburg) regarding, ‘Sanctuary City--Adverse effects of Cooperation with ICE.”
“Please find the attached letter. Thank you in advance, Francisco.”

[Ugarte’s email and letter are forwarded to David Miree, Farrah, Ryan and Gomolin.)
Ryan’s response to Gomolin: “Copy and put in the book.”]

[In his email Ugarte, who provides legal services to San Franciscans that are facing imminent deportation, urged the Mayor’s Office to consider that increased cooperation between the city and ICE will not curb crime, but likely lead to an increase “because many will fear reporting to the police”, and will likely lead to more ICE raids.]

Ugarte writes:
“In the past few months, we have seen a wave of aggressive and military style ICE enforcement actions in our city. In late May, 2008, Virginia Kice, ICE spokesperson, boasted of ICE’s Northern California “surge”—where ICE picked up around 900 individuals throughout the Bay Area.”

“In San Francisco, ICE raided a taqueria chain and arrested 9 San Francisco residents, the vast majority of which had families to provide for.”

“Various members of Congress, including presidential candidate Barack Obam, have sharply criticized this new wave of ICE raids, which target society’s most vulnerable, divide families, terrorize communities, and betray the very ideals upon which our country is based.”

“While there is a crucial need to police and prevent gang violence, there is little, if any, evidence that ICE has contributed to ending, let alone reducing, gang violence in San Francisco or elsewhere. Instead, increased cooperation between law enforcement and ICE will likely support ICE’s most recent overriding goal-to attack and stigmatize immigrant communities and create a climate of fear that no person in this world should ever feel.”

“I therefore request that, unless the City can assure that the confidentiality of children and their families is protected, and that ICE will cease engaging in its brutal enforcement activities against immigrant communities, the City should honor longstanding Sanctuary City policies. As a city, we can resist this temporary wave of xenophobia equating immigration with crime, and take a strong stand against ICE raids.”

August 5, 2:34 p.m.
Alfredo Pedroza emails Ryan, ccs Farrah and Ballard
Subject: Letters re: Sanctuary City
“Kevin, Mike Farrah asked that I forward these to you.”

August 5, 2:41 p.m.
Ryan emails Gomolin
Subject: Fw. Letters re: Sanctuary City
“Let’s keep a file on these.”