Deputy Charged With Felony For Following Illegal Department Policy

Alameda County Sheriff's Sergeant James Russell has been charged with for felony counts of eavesdropping.

Oakland, CA – A veteran Alameda County sheriff’s deputy has pleaded not guilty to felony charges accusing him of recording privileged conversations of suspects while attempting to follow department policy.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) Sergeant James Russell, 45, was charged with four counts of felony eavesdropping on Oct. 3, 2018, stemming from an incident that occurred on March 15, 2018, the Piedmont Patch reported.

According to court documents, ACSO deputies arrested four juveniles on attempted robbery charges, and brought them to the Eden Township substation.

When they arrived, a deputy contacted the public defenders’ office to give the suspects an opportunity to speak with legal counsel before they were interviewed by law enforcement, the Piedmont Patch reported.

In August of 2018, public defender John Plaine became aware that Sgt. Russell had recorded the teens’ conversations with legal council as he was going through discovery in the case, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Sgt. Russell’s bodycam footage captured him telling ACSO Lieutenant Timothy Schellenberg that he had been recording conversations between suspects and their attorneys, the Piedmont Patch reported.

Prosecutors argued that those conversations were privileged communications, and that Sgt. Russell broke the law by recording them.

The district attorney’s office also dropped all charges against the teens after they learned about the recordings.

But the sergeant’s attorneys have argued that the 20-year veteran-of-the-force did nothing “nefarious,” and that he was simply following ACSO policy, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The policy mandated that “all prisoners being left unattended in an interview room will be continuously visually and audibly monitored,” according to court documents.

“The facts in the instant case are not nefarious but ignorant,” Sgt. Russell’s attorney, Judith Odbert, told the court in 2018. “Sgt. Russell had no intent to listen to or utilize the communication and had a rational basis [the directive from the Sheriff’s department] for his belief that the recording should be made.”

"When all the facts come to light, it will be shown that this was more of a misunderstanding of the law and there was not any intent to violate the law for nefarious purposes,” Odbert added, according to the Piedmont Patch.

During a preliminary hearing in 2018, Odbert questioned two of Sgt. Russell’s supervisors about a law change that went into effect in January of that year, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Under the new law, law enforcement was required to provide juveniles under the age of 16 with an opportunity to speak with a lawyer prior to questioning them.

Lt. Schellenberg and Alameda County Assistant Sheriff Charles Casey Nice testified that the department did not specifically train deputies on how to handle the law change as it related to the mandatory monitoring policies the agency had in place at the time, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

In fact, the department failed to address the issue at all until the allegations were made against Sgt. Russell.

Sgt. Russell, a father of three who is married to another Alameda County employee, was placed on paid administrative leave prior to the charges being filed against him, the East Bay Times reported.

In September, the judge denied his motion to reduce the charges to misdemeanor offenses, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

He pleaded not guilty on Oct. 8, and is due back in court on Nov. 13.

Sgt. Russell faces up to five years in prison if he is convicted of the four felony counts against him, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The district attorney’s office has also been reviewing all juvenile cases to determine whether or not more pending charges will be dismissed in those matters, according to the Piedmont Patch.

Comments (51)
No. 1-12
Hi_estComnDenomn
Hi_estComnDenomn

@LEO0301 this must be one of the mental giants you talk about in the police force.

tfort
tfort

Here is an idea, don’t break the law and you will not be charged with 5 felonies. I blame this cops parents for not teaching him to respect authority.

Excalibr4
Excalibr4

I don't know why they even have laws on wiretapping anymore. If you transmit it, there is a record. Nobody went after the NSA, who has billions of felonies racked up by now. This guy was an easy target and it's the shithole State of California, land of the cop haters.

njbud
njbud

Well you know it's a California judge, the prosecutors charge cops and let criminals go free . . .

Heezels
Heezels

Lol California is so disorganized. Cop did nothing wrong. Department failed to ensure their officers were aware of a change in policy. Criminals are looking to exploit a misunderstanding.

Vodkabreakfast
Vodkabreakfast

This fella is lucky to have survived that bus he was thrown under. He didn’t do this in a vacuum. That said, ignorance of the law is a bad look when that law is the platform of your profession.

J10107
J10107

All prisoners are visually and audibly monitored at all times unless their counsel specifically requests that the cameras be turned off.

There are SIGNS on every wall of every area that a prisoner may be held or interviewed stating that they are being visually and audibly monitored in English and in Spanish.

Monitoring is for the safety of all who are being held, working or visiting.

RmdGRD
RmdGRD

Yea, the Sgt followed departmental policy, but following an illegal policy or procedure is on him. We as officers should know where that line is whenever we do something. If he didn't know he was breaking the law, then that's on him also. Like I told Marine's in the Corps, ignorance not a defense. I've told several criminals I arrested, ignorance of a law is not a defense. I feel for the Sgt. And his family. All i can say is, "Good Luck."

bryantrent
bryantrent

Oh boy

IMO
IMO

I know this sergeant and have worked with him for years. He’s a good cop and a good man, and I hope he beats this bullshit. Higher ups have already testified they didn’t train those below them in rank about the new law! 😡

Woobie46
Woobie46

Here's a thought: Charge the asshats who did not bother to train the staff in the way to go about this policy change. Here's a better thought: SUE THE MOFOS DOWN TO THE GROUND WHETHER EXONERATED OR NOT.

Burgers Allday
Burgers Allday

The one who was free to save Sgt. Russell was the prosecutor in the robbery case. Could have gotten a plea deal before the deadline for turning over the forbidden recordings to a defense attorney. I will go a step further and speculate that the only reason the prosecutor in the robbery case let this happen is because she did not screen what was planned to be produced in discovery as she would have been expected to.

Oh, and policemen ought to be trained in general not to listen to legally privileged conversation -- child suspect or adult suspect, unattended in interrogation room or not. There is a more general rule at play here, which the Sgt. should have known -- even if these specifics never came up before.