Recent protests around the county against police brutality have resulted in increased dialogue and questions about the funding law enforcement receives. Arguments for decreasing that funding advocate for shifting money to other community programs like mental health and social services in an effort to mitigate the issues that often result in calls to 911 and arrests.
Mono County Sheriff Ingrid Braun took time at the beginning of Tuesday’s Mono Board of Supervisors meeting to respond to a letter from a local community member about Sheriff’s Department training and funding.
The letter in question, from Claire Landowski, referenced a recent Sheriff’s Department press release about an arrest that county law enforcement played a hand in. The arrest in question was related to a high speed pursuit through Mono County that ended across the border in the Nevada; the person taken into custody was black.
Landowski wrote, “First of all, it is unclear why the Sheriff’s department would highlight this particular arrest. Surely Mono County law enforcement agencies make a number of arrests in any given month, but this is the only one posted to Facebook since April 14 (and I’d note that that one highlights the arrest of two Piute men–do you only post the arrests of non-white people?).”
She continued, “Second, it seems a violation of privacy and in poor taste to post a photo of the man arrested– I disagree with the posting of mug shots for low-level crimes. Third, it is inescapable that the department is highlighting the arrest of a black man for speeding while the rest of the country protests the brutal treatment of black people at the hands of police officers. This post is, at best, tone deaf and at worst, blatantly racist.”
Braun explained that her department often posts arrests on Facebook when they are noteworthy or out of the ordinary, adding “pursuits are exceedingly rare in Mono County.”
Landowski’s letter also made a number of requests of the Sheriff’s department, including racial sensitivity and deescalation training, mandatory body cameras, a citizens oversight panel, and budget cuts; she reported that 25% of the County General Fund goes to “Sheriff programs.”
Braun explained that officers in the Sheriff’s department are already required by law to undergo extensive training on a number of issues, adding that body cameras are already commonplace on the force. She also expressed interest in a citizen oversight panel, noting that the grand jury is already responsible for investigating complaints against law enforcement.
As for that 25% of the general fund, Braun explained that many departments and services fall under “Sheriff services” including dispatch and first response, fire agencies, jail services and coroner investigations.
The supervisors expressed interest in a further discussion with representatives from Highway Patrol and Mammoth Lakes Police Department to respond the letter as well.
Supervisor Gardner advocated extending the conversation further, stating “a lot of these issues address racism issues but also gets into economic inequality issues and that includes many of our departments and gets to issues of fundamental economic inequality.”
This coming weekend marks the first time since March that many businesses in Mono County can open their doors to customers. New guidance from the state allows for counties with approved attestations to begin opening self-certifying businesses in eleven sectors, including lodging, bars/breweries, campgrounds, entertainment centers, and fitness facilities. Lodging operations in unincorporated Mono County are allowed to open on Friday, June 12 while lodging in Mammoth Lakes will open one week later on June 19.
Another notable difference between the town and county: Mammoth hotels will have to wait 24 hours before they can place guests in a previously occupied room while lodging outside of Mammoth will not. The logic behind that distinction, County Administrative Officer Bob Lawton explained, is that the 24-hour ban would make some businesses outside of Mammoth economically unviable.
During public comment, Grant Oepkes, operator of the June Lake Motel, expressed frustration in the guideline variance between business.
“Your inconsistencies are absolutely ridiculous,” Oepkes said. “We need to knock this off. It’s time to step forward and get opened up for business because we have tourists here for business.”
Supervisor Fred Stump responded, stating that the guidelines in question come from the state as opposed to the Board of Supervisors. Stump also added that the supervisors do not control recommendations or asks for Mammoth Lakes.
While the Board has urged local national parks and public lands to open their campgrounds, there was some confusion about the county-operated campground at Lundy Lake. Supervisor Bob Gardner asked that the facility be opened, only for Supervisor John Peters to respond that it already had. County Public Works director Tony Dublino confirmed that the campground was indeed not open, with CAO Lawton noting that lack of staffing capacity was the result of the delay.
The Board received word during its Tuesday meeting that Yosemite National Park would also be opening on June 12, with the Tioga Pass road to open on June 15.
Speaking of which … the Supervisors will take up the issue of the Tioga Inn in Lee Vining on June 29 at the Lee Vining High School Gym and over Zoom. Board Chair Stacy Corless will not be taking part due to a conflict of interest. This leaves the board with four votes on the matter of approval. Project approval can only pass with 3 votes; a 2-2 split will not result in approval.