OAKLAND (CBS SF) — An Alameda County Sheriff’s sergeant was charged Wednesday with four counts of illegally recording conversations of juvenile suspects with their attorney.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said the charges against Alameda County Sheriff Sergeant James Russell were based on the illegal and secret recordings of four in-custody juvenile suspects and their public defender in an interview room at the Eden Township Sheriff’s substation on March 15th.
Because of the recordings, O’Malley said, the cases against all four suspects — who were allegedly involved in an attempted robbery and captured after a vehicle pursuit ended in a crash — were dismissed.
“Every one of us working in the justice system must be held to the highest of standards when it comes to protecting an individual’s constitutional rights, including the sacrosanct right to privileged communication between a client and his or her attorney,” O’Malley said in a press release.
O’Malley’s Office was aware that the minors involved in the case had invoked their right to remain silent. A deputy district attorney provided all discovery to the attorneys for the minors, including videos from body worn cameras. A review of those recordings by the public defender revealed the illegal recordings.
The public defender’s office obtained body camera footage of a conversation between Russell and Lt. Timothy Schellenberg in which Russell said he has been recording conversations between attorneys and clients.
Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods called the charges “completely appropriate.”
“These felony charges are completely appropriate, and we’re glad the district attorney is taking this seriously,” Woods said. “In order for us to represent our clients effectively, our clients have to know that they can trust us, and that what they tell us will remain confidential and that law enforcement is not secretly listening to our conversations.”
“Hopefully these charges against Sgt. Russell will send a message and deter other police officers from violating attorney-client privilege.”
Prosecutors have since examined all juvenile cases, whether charged or uncharged, that have been submitted by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department since the start of this year to see if the proper procedures were followed.
The review of those cases is still ongoing and it is unknown if other suspects were illegally recorded while taking to their attorneys.
Russell was expected to be arraigned on the charges in Alameda County Superior Court on Oct. 17th.