Bounty hunters cause unease in Riverside City College

 

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By: Erik Galicia

Bail bond agents caught Riverside City College by surprise when they entered the Wheelock Gymnasium at around noon on Oct. 8 and arrested a male student during a class in the fitness room.

“Two men walked in and asked if the student was in the class,” said Steve Sigloch, the instructor of the class that was raided. “I said yes.”

After asking for more information, Sigloch claims the bond agents told him all he needed to know was that the student was under arrest for felony charges.

“I was caught off guard,” Sigloch said. “It all happened within a minute. Afterward, I thought, ‘Did I put the student in more danger by letting these guys in?’”

Alicia Berber, women’s basketball head coach, had the initial contact with the bond agents when they entered the gymnasium.

“It was pretty unnerving when they came up,” Berber said. “They were looking for (the) student and I told them they could speak with the instructor.”

Soon after, the bond agents emerged from the weight room with the student and asked Berber to open his locker. When she refused, she claims the agents began giving her details on the student’s charges and other “personal information.” This agitated the student and the bond agents began handling him more aggressively, took him into the elevator and then toward the A. G. Paul Quadrangle as Berber called campus police.

According to Berber and Sigloch, the bond agents claimed to have permission from the RCCD Police Department to be on campus. Both coaches said the agents flashed identification but did not provide their names.

The bail bond agents had contacted Thomas Shenton, a sergeant with the RCCD Police Department, earlier that morning and informed him that they were looking to conduct a bond surrender on a student. Shenton recalled the caller’s name being David, but claims that the caller did not provide the name of the bail bond company and did not say when the arrest was planned to take place, which by law they are required to disclose.

“I told him (the RCCD Police Department) would not be assisting them,” Shenton said.

The sergeant maintained that he gave no permission to be on campus as the bail agents claimed.

“We’re a public college,” Shenton said. “I can’t prohibit entry. But I didn’t direct him as to where to go.”

RCCD Police Department Chief Shauna Gates reiterated Shenton’s account and reassured that campus police will not assist bail agents in locating students.

“Apparently … (the bond agents) had the assistance of a family member of the student,” Gates said about how the agents were able to locate the student. “We as a police department weren’t notified until after the fact. They did their investigations with their sources and came on campus without our knowledge.”

The element of surprise employed by the bail agents has some RCC faculty worried about student safety and the possibility of ICE using the same tactics to conduct raids on the DREAMER-friendly campus. The matter is under discussion between campus police, the Faculty Association and the district’s Risk Management Department.

“Immigration, that’s a civil issue,” Gates said. “Our police department is not here to help enforce federal regulation as it pertains to civil action. But if these federal agents come in with a court subpoena or a warrant, while we don’t have to physically assist them … I cannot physically stop them.”

In 2017, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution “to not cooperate” with ICE. But the decision does not provide the means for barring outside agencies from campus.

Rhonda Taube, president of the Faculty Association, explained that last month’s bond agent incident is cause for a reexamination of the board’s resolution.

“We really want to be assured that nothing that happens like that is without the college president’s knowledge, without the division dean’s knowledge and without the faculty member knowing that law enforcement has come to their class,” Taube said.

But because bond agents are not law enforcement, they are not subject to all the regulations that law enforcement has to abide by. The administration is seeking to update its policy in a way that will make it harder even for private agents to conduct operations on campus.

“We’re looking into the possibility of having a no trespassing rule for the campus,” Taube said. “That means that any visitor, any law enforcement, bail bondsman … has to go to the police station and make themselves known that they are there. They cannot just barge into a class.”

Gates also explained the administration’s concerns regarding outside agencies conducting disruptive in-class arrests.

“If they had an arrest warrant, we would look and see if the warrant was in the system,” Gates said. “But even given that, we would not make that arrest in the classroom. It’s a safety concern. There are other people being impacted by that student being arrested.”

According to Berber, this is not the first time she has witnessed an outside entity disrupt college activities.

“There’s been a few different incidents,” Berber said. “It’s very unnerving and uncomfortable. One of my own athletes was served (court papers) by their father right on the court while I was coaching.

“What’s happening with our safety? Faculty needs to know how to handle these situations.”

RCC President Gregory Anderson, who was not notified of the bond arrest until after it happened, expressed support for “anything Chief Gates can do” to limit this type of activity on campus.

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