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Sunday, July 3, 2011

CDCR: Conservation Fire Camps Under Fire

Mother of murdered officer continues push for fire-camp safety

Sandy and Bryan Tuvera
Though it’s been nearly five years since an escaped inmate shot and killed her son, a San Francisco police officer, Sandy Tuvera still struggles to talk about her loss.

“I talked with him until he took his last breath,” the 56-year-old South San Francisco woman said Thursday, her voice quavering over the phone. “That is nothing that a mother should have to do.”

While Bryan Tuvera’s death is tough to discuss, she has no problem expressing her lingering frustration with a state prison system that continues to place violent felons in the state’s minimum-security fire camps, even though after her son’s death she lobbied lawmakers to change camp policies. His killer escaped from a fire camp in Humboldt County.

“These aren’t Cub Scouts,” she said. “This isn’t the honor system there. What are they thinking? What are they thinking? ... They need more stringent guidelines of who they put in there.”

Tuvera said she’s hoping to again voice her concerns to lawmakers later this month in Sacramento. In response to a Record Searchlight investigation this spring that revealed one in five of the state’s fire camp inmates has been convicted of violent felonies, State Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, organized bipartisan hearings. LaMalfa had hoped to hold the hearings July 14, but his spokesman said Friday that a firm date had yet to be set.

“If I can do this, if I can speak to get them to make a change, I can do something positive out of a terrible, terrible, God-awful tragedy,” she said.

It wouldn’t be the first time she’s tried.

In 2007, Sandy Tuvera testified before the Assembly Public Safety Committee with her son’s widow, fellow police officer Salina Tuvera, about the need to monitor fire camp inmates with GPS-tracking ankle bracelets.

The testimony came in support of Assembly Bill 439, the “Bryan Tuvera Fire Camp Safety Act” authored by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, a San Francisco Democrat.

The bill passed the committee but was later gutted in the appropriations process.

It would be too expensive, lawmakers determined, to place GPS devices on all 4,000 inmates on the fire crews at the state’s 41 fire camps.

“That costs money, but you can’t put a price tag on a life,” Sandy Tuvera said.

Sandy Tuvera is outraged that nothing has changed since February 2005, when 33-year-old Marlon Ruff, who had been convicted of beating and robbing an armored car guard, walked away from Eel River Conservation Camp in Humboldt County.

After eluding capture for nearly two years, Ruff shot and killed Sandy Tuvera’s 28-year-old son when the officer chased him into a parking garage in December 2006.

Though news reports from the time said Tuvera’s partner returned fire, killing Ruff, Sandy Tuvera said investigators later determined Ruff shot himself.

She said her son died 12 years to the day after his father, a police dispatcher, had died.

Bryan and Salina Tuvera had been married for 70 days.

After her son’s death, Sandy Tuvera’s outrage grew as she heard police, prosecutors and even Ruff’s public defender say they were stunned to learn he’d been placed in an inmate work crew, given his violent history.

Ruff first was convicted of grand theft in San Francisco in 1996. He was in and out of prison and jail in the years that followed, racking up two more felony convictions for receiving stolen property and being a felon with a gun, The San Francisco Chronicle reported after the shooting.

Ruff was on parole in 2003 when he began following a Brinks courier driver named Miguel Galang, according to Gregg Oglesby, the Daly City police detective who investigated Ruff’s robbery.

Ruff overwhelmed the unarmed Galang in a covered area attached to a shopping center parking lot, repeatedly punching the man’s face, knocking him unconscious, Oglesby said.

Since he didn’t use a weapon in the attack, a jury later convicted Ruff of second-degree robbery.

“It never, ever, ever should have happened,” Sandy Tuvera said of Ruff’s camp placement.

Her reaction was similar to what local law enforcement officials said last summer when they learned a 36-year-old suspected white supremacist named Jeffory Shook walked away from Washington Ridge Conservation Camp in Nevada City.

Before his conviction, Shook had twice been shot by police after leading officers on car chases.

During the three weeks after his escape, he led officers on three more car chases before he was recaptured in Siskiyou County.

After Shook was recaptured, state prison officials said he was eligible for camp placement because he hadn’t actually been convicted of violent crimes.

LaMalfa spokesman Mark Spannagel said that as the senator’s staff members investigate the fire camp issue in preparation for the hearing, that’s an oft-repeated explanation from prison officials describing why inmates with violent pasts are being placed under light guard at the camps.

“That’s not a sufficient answer,” Spannagel said of the prison officials’ explanations.

But Facilities Capt. Rae Stewart, who oversees the camps for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the prison system’s screening process weeds out the unsafe inmates.

Though around a dozen inmates escape each year, he said the camp program is hugely beneficial to the state’s firefighting efforts and the inmates, who learn a trade for when they transition back to society.

“The benefit far outweighs the potential risk,” Stewart said. “There’s always going to be some cases that draw (negative) attention.”

Original Source Article: Record Searchlight - Link

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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