San Jose Mercury News (CA)
October 18, 1989
Section: Local
Edition: Morning Final
Page: 3B

BRANDON BAILEY, Mercury News Staff Writer

Representatives of about 300 Santa Clara County jail deputies say they will refuse to carry guns or perform other vital duties starting Saturday because of a judge's ruling that they believe has stripped them of police powers.

County officials plan to be in court this morning, trying to convince Superior Court Judge James Ware to change or postpone his ruling.

Though jails Director Frank Hall and other officials say they hope to resolve the dispute this week, a county attorney argued in court papers that the deputies' position is a threat to public safety.

If the deputies do what they say, they will not be able to guard prisoners in court or transport them between the jails and courtrooms all over Santa Clara County, Deputy County Counsel James Emerson said.

Deputies argue that they have no choice. And they say the uncertainty over their legal status has jeopardized their careers and caused personal stress.

''Our morale is completely devastated," said Ron Levine, a veteran deputy assigned to the main jail in San Jose.

While deputies say the issue is not a negotiating ploy, it has been a key factor in talks over a new contract. Deputies voted to reject the county's last salary offer, and union leaders say an agreement is unlikely while the police issue is unresolved.

The issue stems from last year's war between the sheriff's department and the board of supervisors, which created a new agency to run the county jails. Deputies, who fought the move for legal and political reasons, feared that they would lose their authority as police officers when they were transferred to the new department.

Now, after months of feuding, the deputies say Judge Ware's ruling makes it clear that they are no longer officers. And their union says they would be violating the law if they perform duties reserved by law for police. These include carrying firearms to guard dangerous prisoners while transporting them to court and strip-searching prisoners for weapons or contraband.

Deputies will report to work in the jails, but they will not break the law, union President Tom Beck said. The issue does not involve about 350 deputies who still work for the sheriff's department as court bailiffs, detectives and patrol officers in the unincorporated areas and Cupertino, Los Altos Hills, Saratoga and Monte Sereno.

The union says the problem could be solved if the county would transfer the deputies back to the sheriff's department. They say they could be assigned to work in the jails under a contract between the sheriff and the department of correction.

Hall has rejected that idea, saying it would reduce his authority over jail staff and make it difficult to run his department.

Judge Ware's ruling, which takes effect Saturday, came last month in a lawsuit filed by three deputies assigned to the jails. Ware refused to order a state agency, the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, to continue certifying the deputies and reimbursing the county for their training.

Copyright (c) 1989 San Jose Mercury News