Sheriff's office tweet results in backlash from community
SAN JOSE >> An attempt at Twitter humor by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office linking Valentine's Day to putting people in jail was met with social media backlash on Feb. 14, leading the office to take down the offending tweet and apologize.
On Feb. 14, the agency posted a tweet with a photo of three of its records division employees holding heart-shaped decorations and the caption, “Didn't get a last minute gift for your significant other and have an outstanding warrant? Say no more, stop by our Records Division for a quick warrant check and a free lift to the Main Jail!”
The caption was capped off with a heart emoji. While the tweet was posted early Feb. 14, it was in the evening that the tweet started receiving fierce criticism, including from the South Bay civil rights group Silicon Valley De-Bug.
“Families torn apart by incarceration, and some comms person at sheriffs thought they were cute,” the group wrote in a reply to the tweet.
The De-Bug post tagged newly installed Sheriff Robert “Bob” Jonsen and the county Board of Supervisors, and asked for their opinions about the office joking about sending people to jail.
A flurry of responses included those calling the sheriff's office tweet “inappropriate,” and stating that it's “another reason I don't trust law enforcement.”
One prominent law enforcement figure also weighed in: Alaleh Kianerci, the county prosecutor who secured the sexual-assault conviction of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner in one of the highest-profile criminal cases in recent South Bay history.
“I'm all for government accounts being funny from time to time but this one didn't land,” Kianerci wrote in a reply to the tweet that tagged Jonsen.
About 90 minutes after the surge in criticism on Twitter, the sheriff's office deleted the tweet and posted an apology.
“We would like to apologize for our previous caption. The Sheriff's Office is dedicated to providing the community with the utmost professionalism and the initial caption did not meet our standards,” the agency wrote in a tweet that directly tagged De-Bug. That apology left the civil rights group wanting: “If this is what you decide to post about the community in public, can only imagine what you say about the community behind the scenes.”
The sheriff's office responded to an inquiry from this news organization — asking how the tweet was posted and who authored it — by declining additional comment beyond the posted apology. But they were not without their defenders: A few replies told the office to hold its ground and criticized those who objected to the initial tweet as being too sensitive.
Jails in Santa Clara County have been a source of scrutiny and controversy for much of the past decade, scarred by the infamous 2015 beating death of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree by three jail guards who were later convicted of murder. That spurred a host of reform pledges that coincided with a federal consent decree to improve jail conditions, though major jail custody injuries continued to occur, costing the county more than $20 million in settlements. Former Sheriff Laurie Smith's resistance to a civilian auditor's probe into why an internal investigation in one of those cases was abruptly terminated was the basis of one of the civil corruption counts for which she was found guilty last fall.