The county Civil Service Commission on Tuesday (Nov. 10) voted unanimously to uphold disciplinary action against Deputy Juan Lopez of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office in connection with allegations that he violated jail policies and procedures.
An internal-affairs investigation in 2014 concluded that Mr. Lopez inappropriately touched at least one inmate (by hugging him), provided inmates with food from outside the jail, and lied to investigators.
The five-member commission met to hear Mr. Lopez's appeal of the punishment, which consisted of a 150-hour suspension and his designation as an officer who could not be relied on to tell the truth.
The commission acted after a day of testimony from several Sheriff's Office employees, much of it recounting events of Nov. 5, 2013, during a transfer of an inmate from one cell block of the county jail to another. The transfer was made out of concern for the inmate's safety.
Witnesses said that during the transfer, Mr. Lopez hugged the inmate twice once with a "bro-hug," a handshake in which the two men also put their free arms around each other's shoulders and again when they were walking out of the cell block and allegedly had their arms on each other's shoulders.
Physical contact by deputies and corrections officers with inmates is considered inappropriate out of concern for prison discipline and the safety of officers and inmates, Undersheriff Carlos Bolanos said in his testimony. Perceptions may lead to suspicion of a quid pro quo or that the inmate was an informant, he said.
Mr. Lopez is also accused of conspiracy in the smuggling of cellphones into the jail and of fraud in connection with his run for sheriff in the June 2014 election.
The Almanac was unable to reach Mr. Lopez for comment. According to a report in the Daily Journal, Mr. Lopez denied hugging the inmate and acknowledged providing food for inmates in keeping with his religious principles about not wasting food.