I thought it was April Fools again when I learned that OC Human Relations will honor Orange County Sheriff, Sandra Hutchens, at its Annual AWARDS Celebration and Fundraiser.
Unfortunately this isn’t an elaborate practical joke. On May 3rd, OC Human Relations will really honor a Sheriff whose greatest claims to fame are running an illegal informants program in her jail, and allying with Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions’ anti-immigrant Justice Department to persecute immigrants.
The nonprofit, whose mission is to “foster mutual understanding among residents and eliminate prejudice, intolerance and discrimination in order to make Orange County a better place for ALL people to live, work and do business,” wants to award Sheriff Hutchens for her community-oriented policing practices.
“The first female sheriff in Orange County, Sheriff Hutchens has dedicated her service to the ideals of transparency, civilian oversight and community-oriented policing,” OC Human Relations writes on the event webpage.
To say that this is absurd is an understatement. Anyone who’s taken a cursory glance at the OC Sheriff’s Department’s record under Hutchens would know that the words “transparency” and “community-oriented policing” should never be used to describe the Sheriff’s practices, unless the words “lack of” precede them.
In Orange County there has been no greater threat to our immigrant communities than Sheriff Hutchens. Over the years she has been an eager proponent of inhumane immigration enforcement policies and detention practices. Under her watch, the Sheriff’s Department became the last agency in the state to phase out the use of 287(g) agreements, which allowed officials at the county jails to act as immigration enforcement agents. Sheriff Hutchens was such a strong supporter of the program that it took a new state law, the California Values Act (SB 54), to force her to cancel the agreement with ICE.
Not content with simply voicing her opposition, Sheriff Hutchens has seized every opportunity to undermine California’s statewide immigrant protections. Shortly after Trump’s inauguration and Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General, Hutchens asked Sessions to issue new legal memoranda to allow law enforcement agencies to detain immigrants who are booked at local jails past their scheduled release, a practice the courts found unconstitutional in 2014. This month, Hutchens also began publicizing the release date information for all people held in county jails. The move was done with the explicit intent to circumvent California law, which prohibits police departments from sharing such information directly with ICE.
When it comes to running her jails, Sheriff Hutchens’ record is abhorrent. The aforementioned illegal informants program that has violated people’s due process rights has been well documented by OC Weekly. But Hutchens has also weaponized her jails, by incompetence or by design, against immigrants.
Under her leadership, Theo Lacy was deemed one of the 10 worst immigrant detention centers in the country by the Detention Watch Network. As recently as 2016, Univision exposed the jail for its continued pattern of abuse.
OC Human Relations’ decision to honor Sheriff Hutchens is an embarrassment and a slap in the face to every person who believes in justice, transparency, accountability, and basic human decency.
If OC Human Relations operates with the belief that all people should live free of violence and discrimination, as they claim to do, they will refrain from honoring Sandra Hutchens, whose tenure atop the OC Sheriff’s Department bears the stains of abuse of power, violence, and servitude to a white supremacist agenda.