San Jose Mercury News (CA)
September 30, 1988
Section: Local
Edition: Morning Final
Page: 1B

BRANDON BAILEY, Mercury News Staff Writer

Since he became a police cadet at the age of 13, Deputy Sheriff Ronald Levine has devotedly pursued a law enforcement career. Now he's so worried that his badge and gun will be taken away that he's filing a lawsuit on his own against Santa Clara County's new department of correction.

County officials, who have rushed to set up the new agency after winning one lawsuit filed against it by the Deputy Sheriff's Association, say they're not concerned by the latest challenge.

But the 29-year-old deputy said he will file his suit today and press his case, without an attorney, at a hearing in Superior Court this afternoon. After watching his union and his boss, Sheriff Robert Winter, battle the board of supervisors for months, he's asking a judge for an immediate order halting the new department.

''I believe in law enforcement. This is my chosen profession," Levine said Thursday. "This has been one of the lowest times in my career, seeing all that I've worked for going down the drain."

At the heart of Levine's complaint is a gut issue for the 350 or so deputies who will be transferred from the sheriff's department to the new agency: the authority to carry a gun or act as a police officer.

Levine was one of those issued shiny new badges this week identifying them as "correction deputies." Under the state Penal Code, he contends, there is no such thing.

Winter has said he'll revoke the deputy sheriff status of any person transferring out of his department because he doesn't want to be sued for the actions of an employee who works elsewhere.

Corrections chief Frank Hall is a civilian, without the powers of a police chief or sheriff. But county officials believe they have authority to grant police powers to jail deputies because a state appellate court has upheld the new department.

Since these agencies need a certain number of police officers, who must carry guns and transport prisoners from jails to court, the appellate court said the Legislature obviously intended the agencies to give them full police status.

''It wouldn't make sense for the Legislature to give us half a loaf," said Deputy County Counsel Robert Weers.

Levine said that's not clear enough to him. And he's not sure if he has authority to carry a gun when he reports to work next week with the jail transportation detail.

Beyond that, Levine said he's done his time -- 14 months -- on jail duty. And he doesn't want to go back. He's previously worked on street patrol and is now assigned as a Superior Court bailiff. About 350 deputies with greater seniority will get to keep those jobs under Winter's command.

Levine said he's acting alone, without backing from the Deputy Sheriff's Association or Winter. But he said individual deputies have encouraged him and offered to help pay for a lawyer if his case passes its first hearing today.

A spokesman for the Deputy Sheriff's Association said Thursday their attorneys have appealed to the state Supreme Court this month's appellate court decision upholding the new corrections department.

After a two-week transition period, corrections chief Hall is scheduled to take full control of the jails at 6 a.m. Monday.


'This has been one of the lowest times in my career, seeing all that I've worked for going down the drain. '

-- Deputy Ronald Levine with his two badges

Copyright (c) 1988 San Jose Mercury News