It was heartening on Tuesday to see community members speak out against a rogue sheriff of Sacramento County who rejects any independent oversight of his department unless he can control it. It was heartening to hear some members of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors refuse to kowtow to Scott Jones’ arrogant defiance of any accountability that he can’t define himself.
But nothing was really solved. Some supervisors want to maintain an independent inspector general who can review officer-involved shootings, jail deaths and other serious issues without the sheriff having the ability – as he does now – to shut down the whole process if he hears something he doesn’t like. But other supervisors - Sue Peters and Sue Frost - are clearly Jones enablers. And county staff? Not exactly profiles in courage.
This should be simple, right? Good governance monitored by civilians. Transparency. Unfettered access to information that is in the public interest. Why is that so hard to achieve?
People ask me all the time, “Why is this craziness happening in Sacramento County? Yes, the sheriff is a duly-elected official in his own right, but how can he just shut down any investigation of his department that he doesn’t like?”
Why can’t the supervisors do something about it?
Well, we began to learn more about that on Tuesday. The lawyer for Sacramento County – County Counsel Robyn Truitt Drivon – advised supervisors in a memo made public Tuesday that the county charter is vague enough, basically, to allow the sheriff to go rogue. The county executive – Navdeep Gill – theoretically could have authority to do something, but there is no specific remedy at his disposal. So, Jones – a lawyer himself – is exploiting a legally ambiguous document that most citizens never think about.
The county charter is essentially the rules and regulations of the county. Rules and regulations become relevant to citizens only when they are used against the public trust. That is what Jones is doing here.
That his actions are an egregious betrayal of public trust does not matter to him. The current inspector general – former Sacramento police Chief Rick Braziel – wrote a report that Jones didn’t like. It was a review of the May 2017 fatal shooting of Mikel McIntyre, an emotionally fragile African American man who was shot at 28 times by deputies along the shoulder of Highway 50.
The crux of what angered Jones was that Braziel – in his report released in late August – questioned whether deputies needed to kill McIntyre. Jones and some of his supporters have said they took issue with the timing of Braziel’s report and some of Braziel’s alleged political leanings.
On Tuesday, Kevin Mickelson, president of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Association, voiced some of those concerns. He said Braziel should not have released his report before the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office had completed its review of the McIntyre killing. He said Braziel made legal conclusions in his report. He said Braziel raised the issue of politics in his review by mentioning AB 931, a stalled Assembly bill that sought to tighten restrictions on use of force by officers .
Except if you actually read Braziel’s report, no conclusions are drawn. In fact, Braziel goes goes out of his way to assert that the DA is the only entity that can draw legal conclusions. There is no mention of AB 931 in his report.
As for the timing, The Bee already reported in September that Braziel released his report after the board of supervisors reached a “consensus” decision in a closed session in August that he should release it.
The point of Braziel’s report was to make recommendations so that deputies can have access to more information and not have to kill a suspect the next time.
Jones lost it because he doesn’t like anyone to tell him anything. In January, he picked a fight with a state auditor looking into his policy of awarding concealed weapons permits. He picked a public fight with the leader of Black Lives Matters Sacramento. A smart, funny guy who was very engaging and responsive early in his tenure has become an ideologue since he ran for Congress in 2016..
Jones keeps saying he is elected and has public support. Well, he is elected, but his public support is going to erode if he takes a position that he and his department are above reproach.
Supervisors on Tuesday kicked back recommendations that Gill made to narrow the scope of the IG job for two reasons: Gill was clearly bowing to Jones, who, Gill said, helped him craft the words he shared with supervisors on Tuesday.
“Oversight is lost in this text,” said Supervisor Don Nottoli.
“ … This language sucks,” said Supervisor Patrick Kennedy.
“To engage in the disingenuous exercise of pacifying this particular sheriff with a watered-down scope of services, is absolutely ludicrous,” said Supervisor Phil Serna
“No elected authorities should have authority over who is investigating him,” said Betty Williams of Sacramento’s NAACP.
“If you believe in equality and justice, the law should apply to all of us,” said Mario Galvan of the Sacramento Immigration Coalition.
Several others spoke after having to wait all day before the issue finally came up late in the afternoon.
The county will continue the discussion on Oct. 30, and for that meeting, Gill and board chairwoman Peters should provide people the courtesy of hearing an issue of public concern without having to give up an entire work day.
This is about basic fairness and accountability in government. It’s about trying to hold accountable deputies who have the power to take lives in an instant. Whether the DA will rule the McIntyre shooting was legal or not is unclear. It would not be surprising if the DA did rule it was legal.
But there is a policy and procedure element to any officer shooting. Braziel’s role is to encourage deputies to take hard looks at fatal shootings and work on ways to avoid them the next time, if possible.
These are all good motivations that are in the public interest. But Jones is having none of it. He wasn’t at Tuesday’s meeting, but he loomed over it anyway. A room full of people were twisting themselves in knots because of Jones’ actions. Most people in the room knew there was a level of absurdity to the whole exercise.
The county executive clearly answers to Jones. The county counsel basically says that’s the way it is unless the county charter is amended. The state attorney general is able to act but silent. Welcome to Sacramento County, where the top lawman calls the shots.