County Sheriff’s Sergeant Charged in Recording Privileged Attorney/Client Conversations

Alameda County sheriff’s sergeant charged with illegal recording scheme

county sheriff's sergeant
Lt. Timothy Schellenberg, who oversees the Alameda sheriff's investigations unit out of the Eden Township Substation, is seen in a screen shot from Sgt. James Russell's body camera footage. The Alameda County Sheriff's Office illegally recorded at least one confidential conversation between a juvenile crime suspect and his attorney.

In August, The Lyrical Elitist reported on Alameda County Sheriff’s Sergeant James Russell regularly recording privileged conversations between attorneys and their clients while in the interrogation room. In the report, Russell was speaking to Lt. Timothy Schellenberg, who oversees the sheriff’s investigations unit out of the Eden Township Substation, about the practice which violates attorney-client privilege. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the lieutenant took that conversation he had with Russell and sent it up the chain of command. That initiated an internal probe by both the district attorney’s office and the Sheriff’s Office leading to charges against Sgt. Russell.

The county sheriff’s sergeant now faces four felony eavesdropping charges after illegally recording privileged conversations between four juvenile suspects and their public defender. The county public defender’s office stated in the court filings that a separate video had been received from the district attorney’s office showing a juvenile suspect’s conversation with the attorney. The complaint filed Wednesday is the first admission by authorities that more than one recording exists of the sergeant’s blatant disregard for the law.

“Every one of us working in the justice system must be held to the highest of standards when it comes to protecting an individual’s constitutional rights, including the sacrosanct right to privileged communication between a client and his or her attorney,” Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said in a statement.

If convicted on all the charges, Russell faces up to five years in prison.

The Lyrical Elitist reports:

Revelation of the video has caused the sheriff’s office to open an internal investigation into the illegal practice. The district attorney’s office has thrown out the case involving the original juvenile referenced in the video. The DA’s office is also reviewing all cases involving juveniles submitted by the agency according to a department spokesperson.

The video of the juvenile’s conversation along with the body camera video, recorded March 15 from the point of view of Sgt. James Russell, was turned over by prosecutors to the public defender’s office as evidence. Evidence that the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office engaged in a violation of California Penal Code – PEN § 636. It remains to be seen whether the DA’s office will pursue charges against the department.

Prosecutors are now reviewing all juvenile cases from the beginning of the year for compromise related to Russell’s misconduct. That review is ongoing, prosecutors said Wednesday. The cases against the juveniles have been dismissed.

The county sheriff’s sergeant was assigned to desk duty after sheriff’s officials were made aware of the allegations. He was placed on paid leave just prior to the charges being filed, said Sgt. Ray Kelly, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman .

Sheriff Greg Ahern declined to comment specifically on the criminal charges, but said, “It’s just a terrible situation and it affects the entire agency.”