The head of the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers’ Association said today that recent attacks by former inmates against off-duty jailers reflects a new, violent culture in county jails due to California’s realignment policy. Sgt. Lance Scimeca, president of the union representing sheriff’s deputies assigned to the county’s two jails, said that the latest attack happened Friday, when three suspects jumped an off-duty corrections deputy outside a restaurant in San Jose and beat him, rendering him unconscious.
Scimeca said the association finds it troublesome that it was the second attack against a county corrections officer by one or more inmates within two weeks, not including a confrontation in June when a former inmate stalked another jail deputy at his home. “We’re very concerned over these incidents due to their frequency and the physical nature of them,” Scimeca said. San Jose police reported that at about 4 a.m. Friday, a man was talking to an employee behind a restaurant in the 1900 block of Aborn Road where three people approached, exchanged words with the victim and assaulted him, according to police spokesman Officer Albert Morales. While police did not mention where the victim was employed, Scimeca confirmed that the man was a corrections deputy who was not on duty and had street clothes on when the former jail inmates recognized him.
A member of the man’s family was in the restaurant at the time of the assault, Scimeca said. The one-time inmates struck and knocked out the deputy, who also suffered a chipped tooth. He went to a hospital for treatment and was released, according to Scimeca. On Aug. 22, an off-duty corrections deputy was coming out of the House of Genji restaurant at 1335 N. First St. in San Jose with his wife and three children when a former inmate physically attacked him, the union official said. The deputy “told his wife to leave and blocked the assailant from having an avenue toward his family,” Scimeca said.
After a struggle, the deputy subdued the ex-inmate and held him on the ground until San Jose police arrived to make the arrest, he said. In June, an inmate stalked a deputy at his home and told him “now I know where you live” as the deputy got out of a car in his driveway, Scimeca said. The labor leader said that the incidents were “more than bad luck.” He attributed them to the 2011 Public Safety Realignment Act, which in order to reduce overcrowding in state prisons, mandated that people convicted of less serious, non-violent, non-sexual felonies serve their sentences in jails of the counties where they committed their crimes instead of state institutions.
The problem is many of the felons sentenced to county jail had previously served time in state prisons, where they adopted “a mentality of attacking people,” Scimeca said. “Now in county jail, they are imparting that mentality, that gangster-type mentality,” he said. These violent inmates are also staying in county jail for “much longer” terms than other jail inmates and encounter corrections deputies for longer periods, making the deputies “much more recognizable” on the outside, he said. “The culture of the jail had changed dramatically,” the labor official said.
“The tension in the jail now is hotter than it’s ever been.” The county is considering allowing corrections staff, who do not carry firearms while off duty, the option of carrying them for protection outside of work, Scimeca said. In the meantime, officers will have to be cautious about encountering former inmates while not on duty, he said.
“The sad reality is that there are a whole lot more of them than there are of us,” he said. The county jail system houses from 4,500 to 5,500 inmates at two facilities, the Main Jail in San Jose, which holds all men aside from a floor with some women in psychiatric care, and the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas that houses men and women in separate sections, Scimeca said.
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