Sheriff’s Department Stole Our Newsstands: What’s Next?

Everyone has heard law enforcement’s slogan that they exist to “serve and protect.” But what happens when law enforcement employees are the thieves stealing your property?

We know for a fact that someone in the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department stole several Community Alliance newsstands in front of the jail. We saw the surveillance video of their truck pulling up next to our newsstand and a Sheriff’s Department employee throwing it into the back of one of their trucks, and we watched our GPS track that truck to the Sheriff’s Department Satellite Jail on Townsend Avenue in the old industrial section of downtown Fresno. The newsstand was unceremoniously thrown into a dumpster.

Sheriff Margaret Mims admits that someone from her department did the dirty deed. Assistant Sheriff Steve McComas showed us the video of the theft taking place. But when asked if the Sheriff’s Department was going to hold the culprit accountable, the answer was basically no. McComas politely explained that this was a personnel issue and that they would handle it internally.

When asked if charges would be filed against the person(s) responsible, McComas said that the crime did not happen in their jurisdiction. It happened on the sidewalk in front of the jail, and that is within the jurisdiction of the Fresno Police Department (FPD).

A complaint was filed with the FPD, and other than acknowledging receipt of the complaint there has been no further response. McComas said that the FPD had not talked with him or asked to see the video.

Frustrated by the lack of interest in this case by local law enforcement, we explained the situation to the Fresno Grand Jury to see if it would use its investigative power to look into this situation. The Community Alliance is interested in the equal justice under the law aspect of this crime, and we would like to be compensated for the four newsstands stolen in front of the jail (all within the last year).

The bigger issue is the violation of our First Amendment right to a free press. The fact that law enforcement is stealing newsstands, resulting in our readers not having access to the Community Alliance newspaper and them not being held accountable for this crime is outrageous. We heard back from the Grand Jury but only to tell us our information had been received.

Our next step was to complain to the Fresno County District Attorney’s (DA’s) Office in the hope that it would follow up on this crime. Nope. On May 12, Randy Kavorkian, a special investigator in the DA’s office, called to say that the office only takes complaints for possible prosecution from agencies such as the FPD and the Sheriff’s Department.

This is the defense mechanism used by law enforcement to protect their own. It is obvious that law enforcement in Fresno is not interested in pursuing this case, which leads this newspaper to seek outside intervention.

As local law enforcement in Fresno cannot or will not hold their own accountable for crimes committed against members of this community, it has become necessary to present our case to California Attorney General Rob Bonta. A letter was sent to Bonta in mid-May.

We will continue to update our readers on this issue as developments happen.

  • Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. www.mikerhodes.us is his website. Contact him at mikerhodes@comcast.net.

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