Fresno Sheriff vs. Supervisors: Round 2

Friday, February 19, 2010

The court battle between Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims and the County Board of Supervisors may be damaging them all in the court of public opinion.

An exclusive Action News Poll conducted Thursday by SurveyUSA shows that only 25% of Fresno County residents think they're doing all they can to avoid early releases at the County Jail. 63% believe they could be doing more.

Mims is now preparing for the second round in the court battle, but she may never have to fight it. She's suing the Board of Supervisors for deciding to rescind her layoffs of 23 correctional officers at the County Jail -- a decision supervisors said they had to make to keep criminals in jail.

The exclusive Action News Poll also showed a big majority  65% of people in Fresno County -- said they're very concerned about the early release of inmates at the County Jail.

"So am I," said Supervisor Phil Larson. "That's the reason I voted like I did. I don't want any more releases."

The Sheriff doesn't want to release inmates either, but she said it's a financial reality. She's had to close two floors at the County Jail to save money. She's also released more than 1,000 inmates early this year. That includes 12 who walked out the front doors on Wednesday.

"To do jail releases this week with all that space that's available and all those correctional officers there ready to keep them incarcerated really made no sense," said Supervisor Henry Perea.

But Mims said most people understand that she's looking for the best way to use her resources to protect them.

"I think they feel safe when they know the most violent are locked up and a deputy sheriff is going to be there when they call 911," she said.

The Sheriff won't talk about the lawsuit, but supervisors indicated they may be willing to compromise and they've asked staff to negotiate with the Sheriff.

"Avoiding any further court litigation, number one, is what I think the public wants to see," said Perea. "Number two is, 'OK, we know you don't have enough money, but the money you have, make sure you're keeping these people in jail.'"

The Sheriff's lawsuit against the supervisors is set to resume on March 25.

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