Several organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union Friday publicly accused Riverside County of squandering more than $3 million of its share of federal coronavirus relief funds.
The ACLU, Riverside All of Us or None, and Starting Over Inc., filed complaints on Friday with federal officials alleging the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department plans to purchase new furniture, an upgraded key card/video camera system and bulletproof windows using Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds.
“CARES Act funds are intended to support community members struggling with the economic and health impacts of the pandemic,” said Adrienna Wong, an ACLU senior staff attorney. “Redirecting those funds to pad law enforcement budgets hampers recovery efforts, disregards the suffering in our communities and, in this case, violates the law.”
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved the expenditures at a recent meeting, though the supplies have not yet been purchased.
In a statement, Sheriff Chad Bianco called the complaint a “complete waste of everyone’s time.”
“Three completely anti-law enforcement, anti-Sheriff’s Department in particular, organizations have made more frivolous complaints and are counting on anti-law enforcement media to fuel their demands for social justice,” the sheriff said.
A Riverside County spokeswoman defended the expenditures, saying they were eligible under the CARES Act.
“The sheriff’s projects, specifically, ensured appropriate physical distancing and safety, while reducing contact and decreasing the risk of transmission within congregate inmate settings and among essential personnel,” Brooke Federico said in a statement to City News Service.
Federico said the county received a total of $487 million in CARES Act funding last year, which went to a variety of county programs.
“The county prioritized these funds to support residents and businesses struggling to meet basic needs through numerous assistance programs and ensure county departments had the necessary resources to fulfill the mission of their departments to serve the public safely, while reducing and preventing disease transmission,” she said.
The organizations are demanding that the money should be redistributed to services and programs specifically related to the pandemic.
According to the ACLU, the sheriff’s department plans to use $2.7 million for furniture, $1.3 million to upgrade key card/video camera systems and $660,000 for bulletproofing office windows.
CARES Act funding is only supposed to be used for expenditures related to COVID-19, according to the ACLU.
The complaints were submitted to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Inspector General, the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. The CARES Act assigns these offices oversight responsibility to prevent misuse of funds.
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