By Miriam Raftery
Photo by Nadin Abbott, Reporting San Diego;Volunteer searchers combed burned property where two bodies were located after Sheriff's declined to search hills behind couple's home
September 18, 2016 (San Diego’s East County)—Campo resident Claudia Millerbragg asked the Sheriff’s Department on July 2nd to launch an internal investigation into what she and other residents described as rude unprofessional treatment by Sheriff’s officials. She says three other residents also spoke with the internal affairs
Frustrating by deputies’ lack of response to citizens’ concerns about two missing people after the Border Fire, Millerbragg was present with other local women who launched their own search and within 10 minutes, found bodies of the missing couple huddled between boulders behind their home.
Now a Sheriff’s internal investigation into the matter has closed, with a disposition of “unfounded” in part and “exonerated” in part. The finding has left residents frustrated over the apparent lack of resolution of their concerns.
According to the letter signed August 16th by Lieutenant Jeffrey S. Duckworth on behalf of Sheriff William D.Gore, “unfounded” indicates no violations of Sheriff’s Dept. policies and procedures were found. “Exonerated” indicates that the alleged actions did occur, but no violation of law or department policy was found.
Citing state law, the department has indicated it will not release any details of the complaint or investigation.
However Millerbragg disclosed her experiences in an August 19 letter to Sarah Gordon at the County. Millerbragg wrote that the Sunday June 26th, a week after the Border Fire began, she requested a well-being check on the missing couple, Jim and Kyrie Keefe, a t their Potrero home. She says she and a friend saw a Sheriff’s car parked and asked the deputy to go with them to the burned property. “He was extremely rude and stated it was illegal for himto go on the property without being asked by the people on the property. Seriously?”Millerbrag asked. “How are other well being checks done?”
She says the officer ordered her friend, who had a leg amputated, out of the car. When told that the Keefes loved their dogs and that there were dead dogs on the property, she recalls. ”He told us that he did not care about any dead dogs.” She says when she touched his hand with her finger, he shouted at her and ordered her to move away. According to Millerbragg, the officer went off to write traffic tickets after refusing to do a welfare check on the missing couple.
Millerbragg indicates she spoke with a Sargent Coordinator. She asked if a search would be done that day, or the next day, and he said no,because there was no rush since someone thought they saw Jim Keefe walking on a railroad track. “Must have been Jim’s ghost,” she reflects.
Her statements contradict statements issued by Sheriff’s officials previously, who claimed a search was planned to begin Wednesday, delayed due to search dogs being in use elsewhere. Sheriff's officials have previously told ECM that authorities searched the couple's burned home, but not the hills behind it.
Millerbragg was also present Wednesday, June 29, when the bodies were found by volunteers. “Perhaps they started `formulating’ a plan when the community members found the bodies,”she states wryly.
After the bodies were found, Sheriff’s officials sealed off the area with caution tape (treating it as a crime scene, since if the fire turned out to be arson-caused, their deaths could have been prosecuted as murders). Millerbragg says she and others were ordered to stand by the road in the heat with no shade, “While the Sheriffs and other members stood under the shade trees.”
Millerbragg voiced disgust at the outcome of the internal affairs investigation.”It would appear that rude, demeaning, and non caring reactions by rural sheriffs are the norm. I know of no one that has had a positive encounter with any member of the rural Sheriff department in East County,”she wrote in an e-mail Sheriff Gore and other department officials today.
Miillerbragg concluded, “Several of us will be meeting to determine what other course of action we can take. We are tired of our concerns being ignored.”
On social media, she questioned if such treatment of residents would have occurred in a wealthy neighborhood. She further noted, “It appears that as a case manager for County Social Services, I was held to a much higher standard of behavior than the Sheriff’s department.”
Rural residents reacted with anger on social media. One woman wrote that Sheriff deputies refused to take any action after her husband and son were assaulted by two local young men, who shattered windows of vehicles and did other property damage.
Other residents voiced similar complaints at a recent Campo-Lake Morena Planning Group meeting.
Billie Jo Jannen, chair of the Planning Group, says she once made a citizens arrest of a bikers’ group that used to party near her home. “It got prosecuted and they haven’t been back since,”she posted on the Campo and Lake Morena Neighborhood Watch page. “I did that because the local deputies wouldn’t take action. They also tried to talk me out of the citizens’ arrest, telling me `We can’t protect you.’”
Area resident Tracy Peters wrote, “We all deserve to be treated fairly.”
Jannen agreed, and said of the disparate treatment of rural residents, ”Time for it to stop.”