Calif. COs sue sheriff, county over guns

Filed in December, the current lawsuit is about protecting the safety of the officers by allowing them to arm themselves on and off the job

By Glenda Anderson
The Press Democrat

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. — Lake County correctional officers are once more suing their sheriff and county, this time claiming breach of contract in connection with their ability to carry guns.

The December lawsuit alleges current Sheriff Brian Martin has violated two terms of a 2011 legal settlement among the officers, the county and previous sheriff, Frank Rivero.

Correctional officers oversee inmates in the county jail and transport them to and from the courthouse.

Filed in December, the current lawsuit is about protecting the safety of the officers by allowing them to arm themselves on and off the job, said David Mastagni, an attorney with Mastagni Holstedt, which represents Lake County’s 40-some correctional officers.

“Blue lives matter,” he said. “The public should support law enforcement in their efforts to remain safe.”

The suit alleges Martin has limited when officers can carry their service weapons while on duty outside of the jail. State law already prohibits them from carrying guns within the jail itself.

In an email to correctional officers in March 2016, Martin issued a directive stating officers may carry service weapons only when they’re involved with transporting prisoners. They cannot carry their duty weapons when they merely stop by the office, fuel their vehicles or travel to and from work. The email, cited in the lawsuit, further noted that a concealed weapons permit does not authorize officers to carry weapons onto the jail grounds.

The other alleged violation requires the sheriff to waive all costs associated with officers obtaining concealed weapons permits that allow them to be armed while off duty.

Martin said in an interview he also disagrees with at least one of the settlement’s terms not listed in the current lawsuit including the requirement he issue concealed weapons permits to all qualifying corrections officers. Martin said he’s yet to turn down a request for such a permit but believes he should have the ability to do so.

“I happen to support the right to carry weapons,” Martin said. But “if a sheriff wanted not to in the future, that’s his decision.”

As for the costs of the permits, Martin said he doesn’t think the county should pay a $93 state Department of Justice fingerprint processing fee required of applicants. He said he waives all the local fees — about $200 — and allows officers to take the required courses while on duty, as specified in the settlement agreement.

But he does not think state fees should be included in what’s referred to as a “waiver.”

The new lawsuit has given rise to a secondary dispute between the county and the current sheriff.

Martin is asking the county to pay for an attorney to represent him instead of county counsel, believing the county’s potential liability from the lawsuit is likely to conflict with his. The county has refused, saying the county counsel’s office can represent both without a conflict.

County supervisors declined comment, pointing to pending litigation.

While the legal struggles are reminiscent of the conflicts generated during Rivero’s fractious tenure from 2011 to 2015, they are a far cry from those combative years marred by multiple legal fights that cost an estimated $1 million.

Rivero engaged in litigation with his employees and other policing agencies, including the Lakeport Police Department and the Lake County District Attorney’s Office, along with the local press.

Rivero lost the 2014 election decisively to Martin.

©2017 The Press Democrat

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