Rutledge case has lasting effects on Nevada County Sheriff’s office |

Rutledge case has lasting effects on Nevada County Sheriff’s office

Bobby Rutledge’s legacy to Nevada County will be felt long after jurors decide whether he’s guilty of sexually assaulting 13 women while a jailer in Truckee. At the very least, says Sheriff Keith Royal, it’s making his office take more initiative.

“From a management perspective, when you hear rumors of a complaint, you react proactively,” said Royal. “If that had been done early on, if someone had listened to the rumors, the matter could have been resolved earlier on, and not have waited until there were additional victims.

“But,” the county’s new sheriff said, “it’s easier when you have hindsight.”

Rutledge is on trial for 29 counts of sexual misconduct, ranging from attempting to conduct illegal strip searches of female inmates to raping two women in the jail in 1997.

At least two of Rutledge’s victims have testified they tried to report the incidents, but were ignored. They and other witnesses testified similar improprieties occurred at the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility in Nevada City and Placer County’s antiquated jail in Tahoe City on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore.

Ginger, the first of the 13 victims to testify, said she tried to tell several jailers at the county jail but was cut off. While being transported in a county van back to the county jail from Truckee, the driver “turned up the radio” and ignored her, she said. Ginger also testified she was strip searched entering and leaving the county jail. When she complained that her “constitutional rights were being violated, a jailer said, ‘The constitution doesn’t exist in Nevada County,'” she testified.

During an appearance before a judge in Truckee, Ginger testified that the judge told her the jail “‘was not supposed to be a pleasant experience'” and that he “‘was sure I’m being treated just fine.'”

Dana told jurors that before her appearance in Truckee, she had been incarcerated at the Placer County Sheriff’s substation in Tahoe City. It was there that a jailer became overly friendly with her and asked if he could have “a date.”

Other victims testified that Rutledge told them – often with apologies – that he had to conduct strip searches to check for contraband and weapons. It is illegal for a male correctional officer to search a female prisoner.

Rutledge’s defense attorney has tried to use District Attorney Michael Ferguson’s witnesses to show that Rutledge was just following jail policy of checking all prisoners before entering the jail. Nevada County Sheriff’s Department officers have admitted on the stand that Rutledge was the only jailer on staff for several months and when he wasn’t on duty, inmates were supposed to “make a ruckus” to attract a dispatcher’s attention.

Testimony during the trial also contradicts some of former Sheriff Troy Arbaugh’s statements to the 1997-98 civil grand jury.

“Many of the alleged assaults in (Rutledge’s) instance occurred while the jail was properly staffed,” Arbaugh wrote on Aug. 30, 1998. He also said that while his office had tried to keep staffing up, “job turnover, illness, budgetary constraints and other workplace realities have resulted in some staffing insufficiencies in the past.”

And inspections by state Board of Corrections personnel as late as December 1996 warned of inadequate staffing at the Truckee facility.

State inspectors have also cited the county for not having monitoring devices in the jail. Built in 1963 to house all the county’s offices in eastern Nevada County, the squat, nondescript pale yellow building on Levon Avenue has been remodeled several times as its role has changed. Today, the Truckee jail operates under “grandfathered” provisions. If it was forced to close, Royal said, it would never reopen as a jail.

Royal has kept a low profile during the first-half of Rutledge’s scheduled six-week trial since both the sexual misconduct alleged to have occurred at the Truckee facility and the resulting investigation transpired before his election last year. Yet Royal is quick to point out that his attitude has been anything but laissez-faire.

“We now have 100 percent of our operational staff in place, but are in training,” Royal said, adding that the facility won’t go into 24-hour, 7-days-a-week operation until training is completed.

“My ideal is having five female correctional officers up there,” Royal said. Currently, four women and one male officer are scheduled to work. If a person can’t complete a shift or staffing falls below five and a replacement from the county jail can’t make it to Truckee, “we will be consistent with the law” and transport prisoners to Nevada City, he said.

The California Highway Patrol has pressured Royal to open the jail as soon as possible, said Sheriff’s Capt. Bob Hamill, the man in charge of the county’s three jail facilities. CHP officers have to transport drivers they arrest to Placer County’s facility in Tahoe City.

“The sheriff has done the right thing in keeping the jail closed until fully staffed.”

Hamill also defends his former boss, adding that some of the problems were due to lack of funding from county supervisors. “The sheriff worked within his means to do the best job he could.”

Still, within 45 days, six video cameras will monitor activities in the Truckee jail. Two will have views of the entrance to the female cell; others will point into the “drunk tank” and holding cell. Two more will monitor hallways and the booking room, Hamill said.

In addition, the substation commander, Ken Duncan, hired local contractors to expand and reconfigure the evidence room so property is not left in makeshift containers in the hallway, as witnesses testified in Rutledge’s trial.

Other work has included remodeling the dispatch center. By March 1, dispatchers will be able to interrupt KUNR, a Reno-based public radio station, to broadcast emergency information to eastern Nevada County residents.

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