Sheriff's official apologizes to Sonoma family over attack on gay teen
Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 10:45 p.m.
Four weeks after a Sonoma Valley woman complained that sheriff's deputies downplayed the slur-laden assault, robbery and beating of her gay son by suspected gang members, the family has received a direct and unvarnished apology.
“A report wasn't taken that night, and it should have been,” Sonoma County Sheriff's Capt. Rob Giordano told Kristin Land at a meeting of the county's Human Rights Commission. “That was our failure that night.”
“I sit here with a little bit of egg on my face,” added Giordano, who oversees the department's patrol division. “We are not perfect. We make mistakes.”
He told Land and the commission an internal investigation has been ordered to determine why the Sonoma Valley deputies who responded to a report of street violence at El Verano School the night of March 29 did not write and submit a report, and whether they should be disciplined.
Aware that the commission would take up the issue of whether deputies failed to respond properly to an alleged hate crime, both District Attorney Jill Ravitch and Sonoma Valley supervisor Susan Gorin appeared at the session.
Gorin told the assembly she is glad that the sheriff's office “finally is taking it very seriously.”
She added, “I have let enforcement know that I will be following up.”
Ravitch said her office is pursuing convictions, with the added penalties that accompany a hate crime, of the two suspects — one an adult and one a juvenile — who stand charged with taking part in the attack on Land's 18-year-old son and several of his friends.
Land's son, a high school senior who is openly gay, went alone to El Verano School late that night a month ago to meet with friends who were drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana there. He has said seven gang members taunted him with slurs about his sexual orientation, beat him and stole his wallet and cellphone.
He and his friends have said that when several of those friends came to his aid, the assailants attacked them, too.
The gay teen left the scene to seek help from residents of a nearby house, but returned there along with his mother and stepfather. His mother, Land, challenged the deputies when it appeared to her that they were dismissing a violent robbery and hate crime as a simple street assault.
Land became more enraged over the following three days, during which there was no follow-up by deputies and her inquiries to the department produced no indication that the deputies had produced a report on the incident.
She stood before the Sonoma City Council on the Monday following the alleged attack to complain that her son was the victim of a hate-fueled crime to which the authorities were failing to respond.
Sonoma contracts with the county sheriff's office for police services. And though the alleged gang assault happened in an incorporated area outside the city limits, Bret Sackett serves both as the city's Chief of Police and head of sheriff's operations in Sonoma Valley.
Subsequent to Land's appearance before the City Council, Sackett met with her and her family. Land said she appreciated the meeting, and she was grateful both when deputies arrested two suspects and when Sackett announced that detectives determined from interviews days after the attack that hate did indeed appear to be involved because of the derogatory terms the suspected gang members allegedly hurled at Land's son.
But right up to the meeting of the Human Rights Commission, Land continued to criticize the sheriff's office for what she said has been a negligent and erratic response to the violent and hateful events of the night of March 29.
She told commissioners, “I am hoping that something will start to make sense.”
Police Chief Sackett did not attend the Human Rights Commissin meeting and it surprised Land when Capt. Giordano looked directly at her following her remarks and apologized for the deputies' failure to prepare a report on a gang attack that was “definitely a hate crime, definitely a robbery.”
Land said after the meeting she was happy that sheriff's officials came clean about the deputies' poor response. “I knew in my heart that they knew,” she said.
She added, “Three weeks and four days of being told different stories was hard.”
Land said the captain's apology “did feel very good, but there's still a lot of work to be done.” She said her family continues to live in fear of the gang members who took part in the attack and remain at large.
She also said she never wanted to become confrontational with the Sheriff's Office but she felt she had to speak out against the way deputies treated her son and the crime.
“We're with them. We want to work together,” Land said. “It takes the whole community, it really does.”