When longtime Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle accepted my invitation for an interview, I assumed he merely wanted an opportunity to soften his image, spew some PC platitudes, and question the ratios I had derived from years of demographic data for his department’s arrests.
In other words, I largely expected the interview to proceed in the same manner as it would with any other PR-obsessed elected official in Marin County, despite caution from my peer group that Sheriff Doyle would react forcefully to even moderate questions about policy.
Hoping to make clear my intent, I sent Sheriff Doyle’s office an email listing the topics I wished to cover, and explained that I was not interested in a “gotcha” interview, but rather that I wanted clarity on policies and process. I stated that I wished to record the interview, a request which was granted by Sheriff Doyle himself prior to recording.
This permission to record felt like some measure of reassurance; why would a sitting public official grant me permission to record, if he intended to respond in a manner that would raise even more questions about his department’s policies and practices?
Despite my nervous hope, Doyle seemed determined to remain his regular pugnacious self. The man whose power has gone largely unchecked since he was elected Sheriff in 1996 did not seem to welcome even the timid questions I asked about processes/protocols followed by his department, particularly in the Marin City part of his jurisdiction, which has a 38% Black population in a County where the overall Black population is under three percent.
Doyle was frequently unwilling or unable to answer simple questions about his policies. I couldn’t tell if his professed ignorance was an evasion, or if he simply doesn’t understand how his Department, which has a budget of over $70 million, actually functions. At other times during the interview, Doyle seemed to be in complete denial about simple facts, such as how a polling site operates in the modern era, or a well-known, decade-old FBI report warning of white supremacist infiltration into law enforcement, or any of the links established by the FBI between Trump car caravan organizers/participants and the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
Because Doyle’s responses provide a fascinating window into the Marin County Sheriff Department, the philosophy of the man who has run it unchallenged for the past 25 years, and the abject failure of oversight of his department by the County of Marin, I provide the interview in full for you to judge for yourself. But for those who don’t want to subject themselves to Sheriff Doyle’s somewhat bellicose posturing in the latter part of the interview, here’s a breakdown of what’s in each part of the interview:
Demographic Data on Sheriff Arrests and Sheriff Arrests Referred to Prosecution:
At no point did Sheriff Doyle question the actual ratios I derived from data provided by Marin County’s Legal Counsel in response to multiple PRA requests. This data indicated that over the period 2015-2020, Black individuals were arrested by his department at a rate that is over eight times their demographic presence in the County, when compared to White and Hispanic populations in the County. This is an arrest rate that dwarfs the arrest rate for Black individuals in counties and parishes across the Deep South. For arrests referred to prosecution by the Marin County Sheriff Department, the County was able to provide a longer record from the DA’s office, which showed that for a 31-year period 1990 through 2020, Black individuals were arrested and referred to prosecution at the same exceptionally high rate compared to their demographic presence in the County (8.882 times their population demographic in the County.)
Sheriff Doyle indicated that his department did not maintain demographic data for arrests prior to April 2014. (This failure to retain demographic data occurred despite the fact that a 1997 settlement for a racial harassment suit filed against his department provided a clear rationale for maintaining such data in order to show that MCSD was not engaging in racial profiling, racial harassment, or racial discrimination in its stops.)
November 14, 2019 SWAT Team Raid on 200 Block of Marin City
Per Sheriff Doyle, multiple Marin County Sheriff Deputies were physically involved in the November 14, 2019 SWAT team raid on the 200 block of Drake Avenue, which traumatized Marin City residents. Although Doyle claimed the two suspects arrested in Marin City were “armed and dangerous”, he could not actually confirm that either were armed at the time of their arrest. (Given that multiple of Marin Sheriff deputies were involved in the SWAT team raid, it does seem unusual that they would not report back to Sheriff Doyle, the head of the Department, whether or not the two suspects were armed at the time of arrest.)
Doyle throws out the red herring that the two Marin City suspects were “not exonerated”, which this interviewer never claimed. Because there was never sufficient cause for the District Attorney to charge the two Marin City suspects in the first place, neither needed to have been “exonerated” despite having been subject to a terrifying and humiliating public arrest by a SWAT team of over 10 deputies.
November 1, 2020 Trump Car Caravan Permitted by Marin Sheriff to Enter Marin City
Sheriff Doyle states that he did not instruct his staff to count how many cars were in the Trump Car Caravan that he permitted to enter Marin City on November 1, 2020, the Sunday prior to the Presidential election. (Media reported the car caravan as being comprised of well over 200 cars, with some reports of the caravan being as many as 300 cars. Doyle asserts only that it was over 50.)
Doyle confirms that there was no internal investigation of why so many Trump caravan cars were allowed to invade the area surrounding a polling place.
Doyle asserts that there was no voter intimidation because the polling place was not open on a Sunday. In reality, drop-off balloting was taking place at that polling place, and Marin County’s Registrar of Voters Lynda Roberts had to forward complaints of voter intimidation by the Trump Car Caravan participants to the California Secretary of State.
When questioned about his decision to permit the November 1, 2020 Trump Car Caravan to enter Marin City, when he had shut down entry into Marin City for the June 2, 2020 George Floyd protest, Doyle at first denies having shut down the entrance into Marin City on June 2, 2020, period. When pressed, he confirms that his department “might have” worked with the California Highway Patrol to shut down the entrance to Marin City on June 2, 2020, but if they did, it was a matter of “public safety.”
When asked if he was aware of any Bay Area law enforcement participation in the November 1, 2020 Trump Car Caravan into Marin City, he says he is not aware of any participation at all, and further asserts that he is not obliged to investigate this matter.
Doyle asserts that the only crime committed during the November 1, 2020 Trump Car Caravan was committed by Marin City residents who egged and paint-balled a Trump Car. This claims stands in contrast to the obvious and recorded complaints of election interference that had to be forwarded to the California Secretary of State by Registrar of Voters Lynda Roberts, and in spite of reports that Black residents were threatened and called the “n-word” by participants of the Trump car caravan.
Doyle contemptuously rejects reasonable and valid questions about his responsibility to investigate the incident by comparing them to “chasing fairy tales.”
Doyle asserts that members of the Trump car caravan were “lucky” that they escaped unharmed, since Marin City residents are “not easily intimidated.” But Doyle’s claim sets up an interesting conundrum. If Doyle felt that the Trump supporters were “lucky” to have left “unhurt”, there clearly was a public safety issue presented by his willful negligence in failing to stop the caravan from entering the area surrounding Marin City’s polling place.
Doyle describes the Trump Car Caravan merely as “a national movement… that had been going on,” flatly refusing to acknowledge the racist name-calling directed at Black residents of Marin City by participants of the November 1, 2020 Trump Car caravan, and the links between Trump car caravan organizers in other states and the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
Doyle deflects the seriousness of the intimidation inflicted by the Trump car caravan by citing the low turnout for Trump among Marin County voters. He omits the reality that the only Black community in the most racially segregated County in the state of California felt under assault by a caravan of aggressive, Trump-flag-waving white people, who were suddenly and aggressively occupying the area surrounding what was, on that day, the community’s only operable polling place.
Doyle denies any possibility that the Trump Car Caravan that invaded Marin City had any possible links to the January 6, 2021 attacks on the Capitol, despite FBI arrest warrants connecting Trump Car Caravan organizers and participants to the January 6, 2021 attacks on the Capitol.
Doyle falsely asserts that I asked in the interview about military involvement in the November 1, 2020 Trump Car Caravan. (I happen to be the daughter of a former Army captain, the niece of a Vietnam-era West Point cadet, the niece of a GI killed in action in Vietnam, the ex-girlfriend of a USMC Sergeant, and the grand-daughter of a Nationalist Army pilot, and I never used the word military anywhere in the interview.) So what is Doyle telling us in that Freudian slip? If Doyle is referencing a comment I made weeks ago about a news report during a prior public meeting, then it may indicate he is paying far more attention to monitoring his critics than to any due diligence in monitoring his own department’s activities.
Doyle becomes agitated when I mention the possibility of using license plate readers as a way to investigate whether local Bay Area law enforcement was involved in the Trump car caravan. In fact, there is a video camera located in the tunnel entrance to Marin City (the sole entrance and exit to Marin City) which may have already captured license plates. It seemed clear to me that, as throughout the interview, rather than answer questions about policy and process, Sheriff Doyle used bombast to distract from relevant questions he wished to avoid.
Sheriff Doyle seems not to understand that Marin Registrar of Voters Lynda Roberts would not refer complaints regarding violation of election law to his department. Apparently, in Sheriff Doyle’s mind, if his department did not receive the complaint, there was no complaint anywhere! This is the man who has been in charge of your County Sheriff Department for twenty-five years, folks.
Sheriff Doyle said the Trump Car Caravan started in Santa Rosa, but when asked if he knows what time it started, he says he has no idea, and that his office would have no documentation for the start time. He does not address conflicting accounts by his own staff about the amount of time the Sheriff Department had time to prevent the car caravan from entering Marin City.
Bonus Topic! 1997 Settlement In Harassment Suit Filed Against County for Harassment by Sheriff Department
When asked if he recalls the 1997 Settlement, Sheriff Doyle denies that the racial harassment suit was actually about racial harassment. Rather, Doyle claims it was about an ad placed in the local paper by Tony Serra, and later he claims about one of his sheriff deputies flipping someone off. Doyle’s claim stands in stark contrast to the complaints as they were filed in court, and in contrast to the plaintiffs’ descriptions of the harassment as reported in newspapers in San Francisco. (Unsurprisingly, there does not appear to have been much, if any, coverage of the lawsuits or the settlement in the Marin Independent-Journal, the local paper that seems forever committed to playing the fondly licksome golden retriever to Sheriff Doyle’s ankles.)
Doyle declines to acknowledge the obvious: that if Black Marin City residents were being harassed by his Department, it would have taken extreme courage to file suit against the County for it, since retaliation was a likely event, whether or not the case had gone to court.
Doyle claims that the Judge who oversaw the settlement “laughed at” the attorneys who brought the suit, a claim which is hard to fact-check, since the settlement was referred to Magistrate Judge Joan Brennan, who is now two years short of her 90th birthday, and may not be able to remember the event. (From the slender reports of Judge Joan Brennan’s judicial legacy, forgetfulness may have been at play even when she was younger; she had to reverse a judgement in San Francisco because she failed to note her own conflict of interest.) I contacted the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society which is apparently holding documents relating to Brennan; they reported that they have not been provided a release of any of her records or documents, and further that they had no contact information for her.
Doyle strenuously denies that the 1997 settlement provided any rationale for maintaining stops data, even though maintaining that data would have erased many questions about whether or not his department was involved in racial profiling or racial harassment.
In follow-up, I have requested fact-checking follow-up interviews and/or documentation from the departments and individuals named or referenced by Sheriff Doyle in the interview, including:
Contra Costa Sheriff Department
Judge Susan Illston (oversaw the consolidated cases settled by Marin County in 1997)
Magistrate Judge Joan Brennan (oversaw settlement of the consolidated cases settled by Marin County in 1997)
Marin County Registrar of Voters Lynda Roberts
California Highway Patrol
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Sheriff Doyle is aware that I am releasing the audio, and in a public meeting of the Marin County Board of Supervisors on February 9, 2021, he urged me to do so, since he apparently does not consider any of his statements damaging either to his department or to the County of Marin, which has clearly failed to exercise proper oversight of his Department.
That Sheriff Doyle’s Department is “what it is” is not entirely the fault of Sheriff Doyle. Our handsomely-paid Public Defender, Jose Varela, knew since last summer that I was seeking the demographic arrest data within the County, and provided no assistance in that search. Nor did he seek the data himself at any point in his long career with the County. He informed me in an email on February 8, 2021, that he would review the data I had retrieved from the County, and said that the reason he had not pursued the matter was that “it was not easy.”
Jose Varela’s total salary and benefits package is over $300,000 annually, he is paid this ostensibly to defend the poor, many of whom are Black, but it was “not easy” for Mr. Varela to request the data which might have protected his clients. So he did not. Mr. Varela also claims that he had no “official duty to report” the racial arrest disparities, which were his bread and butter, to state and/or federal investigators. That full email from Public Defender Varela must be read to be believed, and I am also making that public.
District 3 Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters has declined to respond to any of my email queries about the Sheriff Department’s startling arrest demographics, nor to specific questions about her involvement in the selection of a longtime Sheriff Captain selected this year as Mill Valley’s new Chief of Police. That individual, Rick Navarro, then a deputy sheriff, was named in the initial harassment suit against the County in 1993. In a pattern that is all too common in law enforcement, complaints about Navarro’s racial harassment were followed by his promotion the subsequent year, and his reputation in Marin City remains very poor over three decades after he first joined the Sheriff Department.
From the documentation I have received so far from the Mill Valley City Attorney regarding Navarro’s vetting process, it appears the only background check he was subjected to was whether he personally had any arrests or convictions on his record. There was no examination of complaints or suits in which he was named, and in which the County had to pay. And so it is bizarre to hear D3 Representative Moulton-Peters spout off in public meetings about the need for equity and justice when at her first opportunity, she confirmed a tarnished officer coming from a Sheriff Department with such a stunning record of racial profiling, as qualified to serve as Mill Valley’s new Chief of Police.
But it is not just a failure of Marin County government officials who failed to rein in Sheriff Doyle ahead of a very possible State and/or Federal civil rights investigation into his Department. Non-profit groups such as the Marin ACLU and the ACLU of Northern California, whose longtime Executive Director, Alan Schlosser, lived in Mill Valley for decades, either never inquired into the racial demographic arrest data by the Sheriff Department, or never took any substantial action to protect Black individuals within the County from the excesses of the Sheriff Department.
Wealthy Marin liberals and their children were happy to march in the streets of Tiburon when an immigrant couple from Africa experienced minor difficulty with a police officer at night in their shop. The fact that said police officer, Michael Blasi, had been hired by Tiburon’s Police Department from the Sheriff Department, after Blasi was involved in the death of the 5’6” father-of-three Cary Grime in 2003, went virtually ignored (another Sheriff abuse case that had to be settled by the County), as had the Sheriff arrest demographics for the larger, non-immigrant Black population in Marin.
In fact, while wealthy white Marin liberals may cherry-pick individual police cases to signal their virtue, they have had very little interest in examining their profitable relationship with a Sheriff Department that takes such an drastically racist approach to arrests, and which has exercised fatal violence against poor whites.
In reality, Doyle was allowed to run unopposed and largely unquestioned for over two decades because that’s what Marin’s liberal population wants. They want desegregation in the South, but prefer to maintain Marin’s ranking as the most segregated County in the State of California. By failing to even ask for the data, they confirm that they prefer the extremely racially biased policing from the Sheriff in their County.
It will take the activism of a younger, more racially diverse generation to overcome this. The best we can do is join them and support their efforts to change this broken County at every level, and that includes demanding our representatives seek an immediate investigation of the Marin County Sheriff Department by state and/or federal investigators. An investigation at the County level is, at this point, a non-starter.