Op-ed written by Dave Myers
“I write to you to express my grave concern for the viability of our largest law enforcement agency in San Diego County, the San Diego Sheriff’s Office. My candidacy for Sheriff was based on rebuilding competency and community trust though transparency, data reform, ending the record number of jail deaths now, addressing racial bias in policing, and diversity recruitment to make the Sheriff’s Department more reflective of the community it serves. I am grateful for your overwhelming support and endorsement for my Sheriff’s campaign. While we didn’t make it out of the primary, the fight to correct the ongoing failures by the current Sheriff’s Department leadership must continue. The status quo is failing our communities, especially communities of color, our unhoused, and mentally ill. Jail deaths continue despite promise after promise of “we’ll do better” by the current Sheriff and his Undersheriff, who has been running the day-to-day operations of the jails.
As we approach the general election, our choice for real reform in the Sheriff’s Department is limited. The other registered Democrat in the Sheriff’s race still can’t remember who she voted for President in 2016, according to attendees at the November 10, 2021 Spring Valley Lemon Grove Democratic Club endorsement meeting. As some of you may recall, during the December Central Committee endorsement meeting, this candidate stated that in the 2020 presidential election she didn’t vote for anyone for President because she was very conflicted between choosing Trump or Biden. For us Democrats, the choice for President in 2020 couldn’t have been clearer after 4 horrible years of Trump, but to some, a racist, misogynist, anti-choice, anti-LGBTQIA, and pro-NRA candidate apparently still had some appeal.
Below I want to briefly recap Undersheriff Kelly Martinez’s record at the Sheriff’s Department:
1. Highest rate of inmate deaths. (JLAC Report, CLERB In-Custody Death Report, Disabilities Right California-Death in Custody Report). In 2018, the Department had more jail deaths than Rikers Island. This year so far, as reported by the SD Union-Tribune, there have been 15 in-custody deaths. Tragically, this is on pace to exceed all previous years for in-custody deaths.
2. At a time of highest in-custody death rates and severe medical staff shortages in the jails, Undersheriff Martinez hired more clerks to issue Carry Conceal Weapon (CCW) permits and not more jail medical personnel.
3. Because of deplorable jail mismanagement and neglect, the Department is being sued in in US federal court for injunctive relief from appalling unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
4. The Department still refuses to address the results of study after study (including one that it commissioned) showing that there may be implicit bias and racial profiling by Deputies. The SD Union-Tribune, ACLU, Campaign Zero, CLERB all confirm using Sheriff’s stop data that we need community engagement and policy changes on this issue, and yet we’ve seen no progress made, not even acknowledgement of the results of the studies.
5. There are still dozens of sexual assault kits that remain untested, even though the Sheriff’s Department runs the regional crime lab and has the capacity and capability of testing them today.
6. Undersheriff Martinez sought out and got the enthusiastic endorsement of the local gun lobby PAC that sued to stop the County of San Diego ghost gun regulations, and opposes universal background checks and raising the minimum age to purchase an assault rifle.
7. Undersheriff Martinez sent Sheriff recruiters to an anti-vaccination rally to recruit Deputy Sheriff’s. When asked about this in a community forum, she denied that the Department had a recruiting booth at the anti-vax rally. (https://twitter.com/
8. The Department still has not implement any rigorous, meaningful training on de-escalation. Earlier this year, Sheriff’s Deputies carrying out an eviction escalated a situation that resulted in the death of Dr. Yan Li, an accomplished scholar who suffered from mental illness. (https://asamnews.com/2022/04/
9. The Sheriff’s leadership continued to act in bad faith by not turning over evidence in an excessive force lawsuit. (https://www.
10. Despite its claims of fostering an environment of respect and inclusion, the Department still does not have a policy that addresses the needs and concerns of the transgender community. As the SD Union-Tribune and CLERB have found, the Department failed to protect the LGBTQ community when Deputies placed a transgender woman in a male jail, which resulted in her being severely beaten. “Jail beating of transgender woman result of ‘systemic failure’ by Sheriff’s Department, CLERB finds.” (https://www.
11. Undersheriff Martinez was a member of the County Human Relations Commission. When a board member during a public meeting attacked the LGBTQ community, calling members of the transgender community an “abomination”, other board members condemned their peer, called for his dismissal from the board. They signed a letter repudiating their peer for his hateful action. Kelly Martinez refused to sign onto the letter and still hasn’t condemned her fellow commissioner for his homophobic, transphobic speech.
12. Undersheriff Martinez fully supports the SD Sheriff’s Department’s working directly with I.C.E. by allowing Deputies to cooperate and share information with I.C.E. This directly contributes to community mistrust, separates families and prevents crucial witnesses from coming forward to report violent crimes.
13. Undersheriff Martinez fully supports “qualified immunity” for law enforcement, which is antithetical to the SDDEM adopted platform for criminal justice reform. See my op-ed in USA Today to understand why this matters so much to criminal justice reform (https://www.usatoday.com/
14. Undersheriff Martinez has not stated her support for AB2343, the Saving Lives on Custody Act, which Assemblymember Akilah Weber introduced after the release of the State Auditor’s report on San Diego jail deaths (https://www.auditor.ca.gov/
I am bringing these matters to your attention because I believe that they speak to the qualities that we Democrats are looking for in our law enforcement leaders, regardless of their party affiliation. The Criminal Justice Reform platform, which was adopted by the SD Democratic Party Central Committee members on October 26, 2021, embodies our deep commitment to true reform in law enforcement. Kelly Martinez has not demonstrated though her words and actions that she will implement the changes called for in our Criminal Justice Reform platform. If anything, it will be more of the same regressive policies and incompetent management as it was under her mentor and supporter former Sheriff Bill Gore. It behooves us to heed the commentary of the SD Union-Tribune, which on May 20, 2022, opined that, “[w]hen Martinez was asked why she didn’t push back on Gore as his No. 2 when he was drafting his dismissive response to the state jail death audit, she said that wasn’t her role. If ever there were a red flag that she would be more of the same, that’s it.” For this and so many other reasons (some of which have been enumerated above), I request your careful consideration of whom the SD Democratic Party should support for Sheriff in the general election. “