The Alameda County, California, law enforcement community was rocked by two scandals that brought criminal charges against three of its officers last week.
A probation officer was accused of sexually abusing an underage inmate at a juvenile facility years ago, and two sheriff’s deputies were accused of covering up a 2021 suicide at a county jail, according to criminal charges filed Friday.
The alleged inmate suicide cover-up happened in the same jail where an inmate died last month from drinking “a profuse amount of water,” the county sheriff’s office said.
The probation officer, 50-year-old Nicole Perales, was in a “position of trust” when she allegedly had oral sex with a 15-year-old inmate between Aug. 27, 2004 and Aug. 26, 2005, according to Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.
The top prosecutor filed several felony criminal charges against the 20-year veteran of the probation department, who could spend nearly four years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender if she’s convicted.
The DA also charged two Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies — Sheri Baughman, 49, and Amanda Bracamontes, 30 — with allegedly falsifying records to cover up their alleged negligence in Vinetta Martin’s apparent suicide in the Santa Rita Jail in 2021.
Both deputies are accused of doctoring logbooks to make it appear they followed procedure of direct visual observation of a suicidal inmate after Martin, 32, told jail staff she was planning to kill herself three weeks before her death.
On April 3, 2021, Martin was found “unconscious and slumped on the floor” of her jail cell, Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price said in a statement Friday announcing the charges.
The logbooks didn’t line up with the video evidence, which allegedly showed the deputies “repeatedly” failing to check on Martin for “extended periods,” as long as one hour and 47 minutes, the district attorney said.
They were supposed to have visual contact every 30 minutes, according to the DA.
Martin was originally charged with assault and had been in custody since July 2020 and was awaiting evaluation and transfer to the Department of State Hospitals-Napa, according to court records.
The court declared a doubt about whether she was competent to stand trial and suspended the criminal proceedings.
Alameda County Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez said in a statement after the charges were announced Friday that this is “obviously a difficult day for many reasons.”
“Any life lost at the Santa Rita Jail is one too many,” Sanchez said. “Deputies Bracamontes and Baughman are entitled to due process as is the case for anyone else in the community.
“The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has cooperated with District Attorney Price’s office in this investigation and will continue to do so going forward.”
The felony charges against the three county officers were filed by the Alameda County Public Accountability Unit, which Price created in January under the umbrella of the Civil Rights Bureau.
The Santa Rita Jail was mired in controversy April 27, when an unidentified 26-year-old inmate died. And the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement to FOX 2 San Francisco that the prisoner drank a “profuse amount of water” and was vomiting the morning of his death.
Due to the vomiting, the prisoner was taken to a medical outpatient housing unit. He told staff during his intake that he used a controlled substance the day before his arrest.
A deputy checked on him at 3:25 p.m. and found that the inmate was unresponsive. Despite lifesaving efforts by paramedics, he was pronounced dead at 4:05 p.m.
“Despite his admitted drug use, there was no cause for concern found during the medical and mental health intake process,” the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said in previous statements.
Meanwhile, Price has been fending off her own critics and battling protesters, who claim she’s too soft on crime, especially after the murder of toddler Jasper Wu, who was killed in the crossfire of a gang shooting on a public highway.
Critics claim Price was looking into a way to punish the suspects without prison time.
Price responded by saying in a video released in April, “We have not made any decisions about what charges to pursue or what not to pursue. We are still reviewing the case.”
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Earlier this month, Danielle Hilton, a 26-year veteran of the Alameda County DA’s Office, resigned and ripped Price in her resignation letter posted on Twitter.
“Victims deserve better,” Hilton wrote. “Under your leadership, the focus of the District Attorney’s Office has been taken away from advocating for victims who have been devastated by violent crimes. … Under your management, I do not feel I can ethically and adequately carry out my duties as a prosecutor.”
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Price’s critics started an online petition calling for her recall, which garnered over 14,000 signatures as of mid-April.
Price and her supporters battled back and held a rally on the steps of the Alameda County courthouse.