A grand jury report critical of Sheriff Ed Prieto left Yolo County supervisors with more questions than answers. Now they want a new panel to re-examine claims that he ran his department under a cloak of harassment and intimidation.
Prieto, a five-term sheriff, responded Wednesday by criticizing two supervisors leading the board’s effort to investigate his office and dismissing a June grand jury report that accused him of employing “wild, wild West” leadership tactics in his years as sheriff. The 2013-14 grand jury recommended nine policy changes but stopped short of trying to remove the sheriff from office.
“I’m starting to sense this is a personal attack,” Prieto said.
Supervisors in June jointly announced with Prieto that they had launched an “independent working group” to investigate concerns highlighted in the report. But Monday, the board asked the new 2014-15 grand jury to conduct its own review and investigate new, confidential complaints brought to the county.
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“We ask this newly impanelled Grand Jury to review the assertions made in the report, ensure that those assertions are supported by the evidence,” and recommend appropriate action, Board Chairman Don Saylor wrote on behalf of county supervisors.
County leaders in their letter want recommendations from grand jurors on the June report’s findings of “nepotism, management by intimidation and poor morale” within the sheriff’s ranks. The June grand jury report found that Prieto had tracked down subordinates and associates to find information on grand jurors’ activities. Jurors found that the actions had intimidated employees who feared retaliation if they participated in their investigation.
Board members also want the panel to review alleged misconduct “regarding favoritism, nepotism and preferential treatment” involving management and hiring in the department. The report found that Prieto circumvented county hiring laws to provide jobs for family and friends.
Supervisors Matt Rexroad and Saylor have been the board’s most vocal critics of Prieto. Rexroad said Wednesday the earlier jury’s findings of nepotism and the new, confidential complaints left the board with too many lingering questions.
“It probably left more unanswered questions than anything else,” he said. “You can’t have complaints like that in public and not follow through. If a charge like this is made, you have to follow through.”
The board’s letter came four days after Prieto issued a nine-page response to the June grand jury report that disagreed with many of the panel’s findings. The sheriff took issue with the relatively few employees interviewed by jurors and criticized the report’s “wild, wild West” title as “snide.”
“The title has created an atmosphere of a joke in the community and diminishes the importance of the report,” his response stated.
In an interview Wednesday, Prieto singled out Saylor and Rexroad and called the report’s allegations of nepotism “old news.”
“The two board members who chastised the report initially, with the limited information they had from the grand jury, they attacked my integrity and character,” he added. “We covered every single issue item by item, and now they want clarification from the new board? Show me what’s broken and we’ll do everything we can to fix it.”
The working group reviewing Prieto’s leadership is led by former Woodland mayor Marlin “Skip” Davies. After the group was launched in June, Rexroad said he believed that the sheriff “deserves credit for taking this seriously.”
But Rexroad said Wednesday that supervisors would be remiss if they didn’t push for more answers.
“We’re not questioning (Prieto’s) leadership, but it would be irresponsible to have accusations made and not follow up on them,” he said. “That would be irresponsible. We want to do things the right way.”