Saturday, April 21 , 2018, 7:30 pm | Fair 68º


Local News

Bail Agents Claim Santa Barbara County Jail Diverting Inmate Calls

Civil suit accuses Sheriff's Department, tech companies of blocking legally authorized calls from newly arrested

A group of bail agents has filed a verified complaint against the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and technology companies.

The seven men claim their incoming calls and overall business have decreased by about 70 percent over the past few years because of sheriff’s staff and jail phone service companies blocking, disconnecting or otherwise discouraging inmate calls to bail agents.

Sheriff Bill Brown, Planning and Programs Division Lt. Mark Mahurin and telephone software companies Securus Technologies Inc. and Evercom Systems Inc. are listed as defendants.

The Sheriff’s Department was served with the papers Tuesday, but cannot talk about it as the litigation is ongoing, department spokesman Drew Sugars said.

Attorney Joseph Allen is representing the plaintiffs, and county counsel is handling the case for the Sheriff’s Department.

The plaintiffs are all Santa Barbara County residents and are licensed bail agents. David Brattain, David Corlatan, Brian Gooch, Francisco Mejia, Kirk Moore, Tim Romero and John Vasquez are listed on the court documents as plaintiffs.

According to court documents, each arrestee is allowed three free phone calls from jail — calls that typically are made to bail agents, attorneys and others.

Since 2004, the department has held a contract with the nonprofit Partners For a Safer America, which provides opportunities to bail bond agents and attorneys to advertise to inmates held in detention facilities.

The jail also contracts with Evercom, which provides software to monitor, record, terminate and block calls, such as when a three-way call was detected. Plaintiffs allege that, beginning in March 2007 and ongoing since, there has been a decline in the number of calls received, inmates have approached them saying they made repeated unsuccessful attempts to call them, and all the while sheriff’s staff said the problem was under investigation.

According to the documents, Corlatan, who runs Goleta Fast Response Bail Bonds, and the others noticed they always received collect calls from booked, housed inmates but not calls that were free to the recently arrested.

Despite “repeated assurances” that the causes of the dropped or blocked calls were being investigated, plaintiffs continued to have problems.

Automatic messages heard included: “the caller has hung up;” “this call is terminated now due to a system error;” “no three-way calls allowed;” and “invalid entry.”

The bail agents considered it a breach of contract, and an initial claim was filed in May 2009, but was rejected by the county as it was considered untimely, although the offense date was “November 1, 2008 and continuing.” A copy of the claim denial letter from the county Office of Risk Management is included in the documents.

The initial claim was filed against the county only, but the claimants later discovered that Securus and Evercom were being investigated nationally on allegations of inappropriately blocking phone calls from detention facilities.

The current claim alleges that Brown and others may have not only been aware of the situation but willingly participated.

Corlatan and the others filed the six-part claim on Jan. 7.

Plaintiffs claim that staff hand out inaccurate or outdated bail agent information in addition to the problems with outgoing calls, therefore breaching the contract with Partners For a Safer America. They seek an injunction against Brown as well as damages for lost revenues and attorney fees.

The complaint is for damages for breach of contract, damages for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, damages for intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, damages for civil aiding and abetting, damages for violations of statutory mandates and injunction.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Maestro, Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Debit

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >