Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said he is committed to moving his department forward after this week’s multimillion-dollar judgment awarded to four female sheriff’s deputies who said they were retaliated against by superior officers under his watch, even as county attorneys plan to appeal the jurors’ verdict.
“The burden of leadership dictates that this falls squarely on my shoulders in terms of what to do from here forward,” Jones told reporters Thursday afternoon at the department’s downtown headquarters. “My challenge is not to dwell on what has happened. My challenge is to decide how to move forward. It’s premature to say what that road map looks like.”
The comments Thursday were among Jones’ first public statements since jurors on Tuesday awarded Lts. Annica Hagadorn and Dawn Douglas, Sgt. Tracie Keillor and Deputy Jodi Mendonca nearly $3.6 million in their six-year-old bias and retaliation lawsuit.
Though he gave few specifics as to how he plans to move his department forward, Jones said he planned to meet with the plaintiff deputies “in the near future. I suspect that will be part of my path forward.”
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“We would certainly welcome that,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Jerry Chong. “We want the department to listen to the verdict and take the opportunity to make some needed changes.”
The burden of leadership dictates that this falls squarely on my shoulders in terms of what to do from here forward. My challenge is not to dwell on what has happened. My challenge is to decide how to move forward. It’s premature to say what that road map looks like.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones
With the verdict, speculation swirled about its effect on Jones’ political hopes in what is expected to be a closely contested congressional race between the twice-elected sheriff and the incumbent, Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove. Jones, a Republican, took heat Wednesday from critics, including the spokeswoman for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who accused him of disrespecting women.
Asked whether he was concerned that voters will take the lawsuit and verdict into consideration, Jones first said he was unsure, before expanding on the question.
“If the decision of making a comment affects my congressional campaign – standing here (Thursday) is the right thing to do,” Jones said. “If it affects the congressional campaign, that’s a byproduct of doing what’s right.”
In a brief news conference that Jones said was hastily called and squeezed between two other engagements, he praised his command and management staff that he said “continues to do the right thing for the right reasons,” and flatly denied that retaliation against the deputies took place. He said he is “unaware and would dispute any claims of gender or any other type of retaliation.”
Jones said the county plans to file post-trial motions and appeal the Sacramento Superior Court verdict, if there are legal grounds to do so.
“The county will challenge the verdict,” Jones said.
The statements echo those of county officials, who in a statement Wednesday said the department stood by its personnel decisions, denied charges of retaliation and promised to challenge the verdict handed down in Sacramento Superior Court.
Hagadorn, the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, had alleged she was repeatedly passed over for promotions and other opportunities to advance, then was hit with internal affairs investigations and a punitive transfer from her assignment as a north-area patrol watch commander to a post miles away in Elk Grove after she complained to state employment officials and filed her lawsuit.
Keillor, Mendonca and Douglas say they were retaliated against by their superiors – including Undersheriff Erik Maness, who was then a captain – after they confronted him with their suspicions of an improper relationship and preferential treatment of a female deputy under his command.
At trial, Maness and Jones both denied that the deputy received special treatment. Sheriff’s investigators later deemed the claims of improper conduct unfounded, but the retaliation Keillor, Mendonca and Douglas said stemmed from their complaints formed the foundation of their legal action.