September 4, 2002

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Ratched response
Sheriff's lawyer makes fun of mental patient

By Shadi Rahimi

Jason Grant Garza says he's had enough.

The mentally disabled Medicare recipient told the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force Aug. 27 that after requesting records from the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, he received a letter signed by R.N. Ratched, the nurse from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

"I'm not laughing," said Garza, who later found out that Sheriff Department legal counsel Jim Harrigan signed the letter.

Garza told the task force he arrived at the San Francisco General Hospital emergency room in mental distress April 21, only to be arrested and "thrown naked into a jail cell." He said he later sent a written request to the Sheriff's Department for all records pertaining to his arrest.

The letter denying his request, which was submitted as evidence to the task force, was written on Sheriff Michael Hennessey's stationery, with the handwritten and typed signature "R.N. Ratched."

No one from the Sheriff's Department was present at the hearing, in which the task force found the department guilty of violating the Sunshine Ordinance because they improperly responded to Garza's request and failed to provide him with the records.

The task force also voted unanimously to ask the city's Ethics Commission to investigate the issue further. "I'm extremely tired of people asking for sunshine and they get mooned," task force member Doug Comstock said. "This is the strongest thing we can do."

In an interview, Harrigan told the Bay Guardian that his dealings with Garza were "very brief and very ugly." He said signing as R.N. Ratched was intended to be humorous, not belittling. Harrigan said that as soon as he receives a written ruling from the task force, he will pull all of Garza's jail records and mail them to him.

Earlier in the hearing, Garza told the task force its rulings "don't amount to a hill of beans" if no one in the city will enforce or abide by them. Task force members responded that their new committee, the Compliance and Amendments Committee, will strive to monitor compliance and recommend enforcement. Members of the committee will be Heather Sterner (chair), Richard Knee, and Alexandra Nickliss.