Editorial: El Dorado sheriff must explain action

Published: Saturday, Jun. 29, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8A

El Dorado County Sheriff John D'Agostini owes the public an explanation. Citing unspecified complaints from unnamed members of the public, the sheriff announced he will no longer allow U.S. Forest Service law enforcement agents to enforce state law in El Dorado County.

That's an extraordinary action. It means that trained and uniformed patrol officers with badges and guns, all sworn officers of the Forest Service, may no longer fully protect the public in El Dorado County.

It means in a county where law enforcement patrols are thin already, law enforcement just got thinner.

So drastic an action demands an explanation. What were the complaints? Who made them and against which officers? The sheriff won't say. He claims he has been addressing this issue for several months. Really?

If this true, why did he take these actions without first contacting the supervisor in charge of the officers he accuses of wrongdoing? Scott Harris, special agent in charge of the Forest Service's Southwest Region offices in Vallejo, says he never heard from D'Agostini until he received a letter June 17 announcing that the sheriff was terminating the cooperative law enforcement agreement between the Sheriff's Office and the Forest Service effective July 22.

Forest Service officers can still enforce federal law on federal forest lands in El Dorado County, mostly property crimes and protection of natural resources. But under the D'Agostini order they will no longer be allowed to cite someone for speeding on forest lands or expired registrations. Nor will they be able to stop someone with a sawed-off shotgun or illegal assault weapons.

The nation's forests, particularly in Northern California, are no longer bucolic enclaves. Huge swaths have been taken over by criminals for illegal marijuana cultivation. An increasingly violent drug trade threatens public safety. The public needs more protection, not less.

While it might play well politically for D'Agostini to be seen in El Dorado County as standing up to federal authorities, it could harm the public he serves. Unilaterally reducing the authority of federal law enforcement officers to protect the public is irresponsible. For him to publicly suggest that these officers have done something wrong and then refuse to say what it is or give them an opportunity to respond is reprehensible. D'Agostini owes his constituents an explanation for why he has taken this action.

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