of people in the Riverside Jail have not been convicted of a crime, and are being held only because of the current bail system.*
*based on most recent data available from the CA Board of State and Community Corrections daily average prison populations in county jails.
If I was a family member of someone in custody, I would be treated poorly, but if I am an observer I can be treated with utmost respect.
A Day In riverside Court
As I approach Riverside County Court building, I always have fear because you never know how things may play out. Before entering the court building there are long lines outside just to enter the building. This is a dreadful experience. It makes you feel as if you are a criminal and you cannot be trusted. It leaves you feeling hopeless, powerless, trapped, and overwhelmed with confusion. The process is so long it makes you want to turn around and go back home and not ever return. The security guards at these entry points are so rude, disrespectful and discriminatory toward you, yelling at you, always with their favorite quote "cell phone, keys, watch, wallet and belt.” If you don’t wear a suit or carry a briefcase then you are treated like crap.
I was conducting a court watch to observe felony court bail hearings within Riverside County and it was indeed a challenging and frustrating experience. I could only imagine what a family member would feel like going through this process in search of their loved ones hearing and not having the slightest clue where to begin. You would think the guards would know because they work there and come to find out they don't know.
I went around and asked different lawyers, District Attorneys, even Sheriffs where felony arraignment court is held. The answers I received were disappointing. The replies I heard were “I don’t know” in a nonchalant moderate tone as they kept walking in a busy manner. Finally, I was giving an unsure answer that it's held on the 2nd floor in Department 22 and 21. Neither courtroom was arraignment so I left the court building for that day.
I returned back to Riverside Court on another day in search for felony arraignment court for the second time. Upon my return, I searched the court building reading all the signs but I did not see anything that mentioned nor that would direct the public where the arraignment courts are held. I did notice nice fancy screens that displayed individuals names in alphabetical order, court appearance times and departments. When I still didn’t find what I was looking for, I asked two sheriffs on the first floor if they knew where felony arraignments are held. They replied no. Moments later, one of the sheriff officers came looking for me and kindly apologized for not knowing the information. He directed me to the 6th floor, Department 61 and the 4th floor, Department 41. I proceeded to the 4th floor.
While waiting in the hallway for the courtroom doors to open to the public, District Attorneys, Public Defenders and even Private attorneys are coming back and forth, in and out of the courtroom calling names of their clients,
family member of their clients, subpoena witnesses, and victims. The hallways are even filled with jurors and potential jurors.
Court was supposed to start at 1:30 and did not open. No one came to inform the public of the delay of the court. At 1:51 the courtroom opened. A bailiff came out and said, “Department 41 is now open." About 1:53 pmm the judge takes the bench, the officer that is standing in the walkway of the courtroom takes out his cuffs and begin to open and close them as if he was going to take somebody into custody. There were about five officers in the courtroom making the atmosphere very tense.
Attempting to enter the courtroom is a battlefield. Individuals are pushing and squeezing their way into the courtroom just for a seat. After you’re seated the bailiff starts to tell you to "turn off your cell phones," "no talking when the Judge is on the bench," "no talking to the inmates," "if you do you will be kicked out the courtroom and will not be able to return." All this is done in a very rude and aggressive manner. The looks on their faces are unbelievable, stoned faced, hard and mean. It makes you feel like you’re in custody. One bailiff stands in the walkway, one by the court clerk and two by the entryway where they bring in the individuals in orange jumpsuits into the courtroom. They are shackled and can barely walk but being rushed by the sheriffs as they are escorted into the courtroom. They have metal cuffs on their wrist, ankles and around their waist all connected by a chain. Just the sight of this would cause someone to make a judgment on the individual without even knowing the facts of their case. This is one of the reasons why I feel it is important for someone to fight their case from the street, out of chains and in regular clothes to be given a fair trial.
As you walk into the courtroom, to your left is where there is public seating but only three rows can be used for seating, approximately ten people regular size and about eight or less if the individuals are larger in width. The first row is left empty for the attorneys but to the right of the courtroom there were three rows for attorneys, local officers, plainclothes officers, private investigators, detectives, possible subpoenaed witnesses and victims. The first row on the right side is filled with individuals in orange jumpsuits and shackles. Then inside the jury box you have the women and possibly a few elderly in a bluish-gray clothing in shackles. Moving from right to left in the courtroom you have an empty witness stand, court reporter, district attorney's table (seating two), the judge, public defenders table (seating two) and private attorneys don't have a specific place to sit so they are popping in and out. Then you have the court clerk; next to the court clerk, you have the bailiffs desk. Behind that desk is an open, sometimes shut door where different sheriffs transfers the individuals that are in custody in and out the courtroom.
The most intimidating is the bailiffs bullying and threatening to throw people out the courtroom if they even smile at their loved one. If they think you’re talking or possibly on your phone, they would throw you out the courtroom. I myself was asked to make sure my cell phone was off and I obliged with their request. Moments later, my phone that I was holding under my notebook as I’m taking notes accidentally turned on. It made a bling sound and I looked up to see the bailiff was towering over me with most evilest look upon his face as if I had committed a heinous crime. Feeling intimidated and threatened instantly gave me flashbacks of mistreatment and conduct of officers abusing their authority. I quickly say, "it turned back on by itself, as you can see I’m writing.” He walks away saying, "keep your cell phones off or you would be asked to leave the courtroom," and everyone in my vicinity was looking shocked and baffled along with me.
The proceedings of the court went very fast. Judge called case numbers and public defenders or private attorneys would stand by their clients and indicate if they were in or out of custody. The proceeding and the process of the court was so very confusing. I became frustrated and overwhelmed so I left Department 41. I took a brief break gather myself and returned to Department 41. At that time, I mentioned to the bailiff who was rude to me earlier that I was coming back to observe the courtroom. He had a surprised look on his face and said, "you are an observer and not a family member?" And I said, "no, sir, I'm not a family member but I am an observer." Then he said, "next time just tell us you are an observer" and I said "ok" feeling very confused. I was wondering what he meant by that. If I was a family member of someone in custody, I should with be treated poorly, but if I am an observer I can be treated with utmost respect. His demeanor, facial expressions and actions towards me were now astronomically changed and he told me the court was in recess. When court reopened, the same bailiff said to me this time, "Are you in law school or college?" I said, “No sir, I’m a part of the Participatory Defense." He said, "ok, just let us know when you first come that you are an observer."
The whole time I was in court, I never heard anyone mention nor consider anything about the Humphrey Motion.
Best of luck on understanding the court language because I didn't! I can't imagine what and how the family, loved ones or even alleged accused feels. No wonder why people, family members of the loved ones are stressed, confused, crying, screaming bursting and running out of the courtrooms upset. It’s so draining and heartbreaking. courage to make a stand and come together as a community. It makes one think why the courtrooms are empty and I could frankly understand why, but we can’t let the intimidation and pain stop us. Strengthen us with the courage to make a stand and come together as a community. I feel the courts should always be filled and watched and every key player be held accountable for their actions and every person regardless be handled with equality, dignity and respect.
GOD BE WITH US ALL.
The Press Enterprise: "Deputies, Jail staff failed to properly care for Banning Inmate, lawsuit claims."
NBC Channel 4 News: "Bail Bondsmen shoot man in Riverside."
KESQ Channel 2 News: "Riverside County agrees to $7 million additional funds for Indio jail."