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In upcoming San Francisco jail sex-bias case, deputies argue men must help to guard womens’ jail

Matt Stroud

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Interesting story out of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco. Seven years ago, a sheriff banned men from guarding female housing units at San Francisco County Jail. Deputies sued. This week, that case heads to court. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Since the change took effect in October 2006, female deputies have been subjected to increased stress, violence and danger” guarding women who have a greater propensity for being argumentative, disagreeable, vocal, challenging and more openly hostile than male inmates,” the officers’ lawyers said in written arguments to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

Male deputies, meanwhile, have lost wages and overtime and have been falsely stigmatized as sexual predators because of Hennessey’s decision, the lawyers said. And, they said, in the 16 years before the sheriff instituted his no-men-allowed policy, there was not one sustained complaint of sexual misconduct by a male deputy against a female inmate.”

That’s not true, the city’s lawyers say. Hennessey’s office investigated a dozen complaints of sexual misconduct by male deputies between 2001 and mid-2006, the lawyers said in a court filing. No criminal charges were filed, but three deputies resigned and two others were suspended, they said.

Cases that resulted in resignation and cases in which discipline was meted out are substantiated allegations,” said Gabriel Zitrin, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

Lawrence Murray, lead attorney for the deputies in the lawsuit, countered that Hennessey, in a sworn deposition, was unable to identify any officers who were punished for sexual misconduct in the jail, where the living quarters, Murray said, are under constant surveillance by supervising officers and video cameras.

The three-judge panel that will hear the case on Wednesday will consider the factual dispute and, perhaps more important, the level of deference that judges should give to the sheriff’s decisions on jail operations.

In a February 2010 ruling upholding Hennessey’s policy, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said gender-based work assignments are outside modern-day norms” but courts have long required judicial restraint when assessing the decisions of correctional officials.”

Hennessey, who had been San Francisco’s sheriff since 1980, reasonably concluded that the policy was necessary to address the security and morale problems associated with staffing male deputies in female housing units,” Illston said. The policy has been continued by current Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, whose office declined to comment on the case.

Read the whole piece at sfgate​.com.

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Follow me on Twitter @ssttrroouudd where I frequently post fascinating criminal justice stories like this one.

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Matt Stroud is a former Innocence Network investigator who now covers the U.S. legal system, in all its glory and ugliness, as a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @ssttrroouudd. Email him at stroudjournalism<at>
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