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This farce isn’t funny. Subpoena the sheriff if justice matters

‘He did his job.’ Supervisors debate firing Braziel and future oversight of sheriff

Sacramento County Board of Supervisors debate the future of the Inspector General position, on Tuesday, October 16, 2018, after Sheriff Scott Jones locked out Rick Braziel.
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Sacramento County Board of Supervisors debate the future of the Inspector General position, on Tuesday, October 16, 2018, after Sheriff Scott Jones locked out Rick Braziel.

On Tuesday, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will continue a farce that epitomizes weak leadership in government and demonstrates how some board members are more concerned with protecting their cronies than representing citizens.

Just beginning his third term, Sheriff Scott Jones does not think accountability applies to him.

He is flouting any kind of oversight of his department and some county executives and board members — Susan Peters and Sue Frost — are all but rolling over and playing fetch to appease their master when they hear his voice.

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In August, the current inspector general, Rick Braziel, released a report about the 2017 fatal shooting of an emotionally disturbed African American man, Mikel McIntyre, on the shoulder of Highway 50 near Zinfandel Drive. In his assessment, Braziel questioned the tactics of deputies. One deputy, Gabriel Rodriguez, fired 18 shots across the highway as McIntyre fled away from him. Braziel challenged whether officers needed to continually use deadly force against McIntyre or could have switched to less-lethal measures.

Jones lost it over Braziel’s report. He has locked Braziel out of his facilities ever since.

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Officially, Tuesday’s farce is called a hearing. It’s scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Board of Supervisors chambers at 700 H Street. It’s item 47 on the board agenda and the title sounds innocuous enough: Approve Changes to the Scope of Services of the Inspector General’s Contract.

The Inspector General, you see, is a position that is supposed to be independent. Braziel is supposed to be able to enter sheriff’s facilities to investigate any incident where a county deputy shot a gun or killed or wounded a suspect. The IG also investigates any death or accusation of abuse at county jails.

Braziel had a 30-year career with the Sacramento Police Department, retiring as chief in 2012. Since then, he’s taught leadership and tactics to law enforcement agencies across the country and in Canada. He has been called in by the U.S. Department of Justice to do deep dives after controversial police shootings. He’s a nationally recognized use-of-force expert.

Since Jones’ lockout of Braziel, Peters and Frost have pretty much behaved like two people who would drop down and do 100 pushups if Jones ordered it. The county CEO, Navdeep Gill, and County Counsel Robyn Truitt Drivon also seem willing to do anything Jones says.

When some board members, in efforts to smooth Jones over, asked for the IG job description to be tightened, do you know what Gill did?

He sat with Jones and the two of them wrote it up together. Yeah, the fox wrote the rules for how the hen house should be guarded. And the fox was aided in this process by the guy who is supposed to be running the whole operation.

The results? The contract that will be discussed Tuesday says the IG is independent, as long as he or she stays in a very small and useless sandbox. The IG can’t pick what use of force incidents to look at — Jones, Gill or the board has to request an investigation. And if the board makes the request, Gill will “work jointly with the Sheriff” to oversee it.

But Gill having Jones’ back really doesn’t matter, because the IG would only be authorized to “track and monitor” investigations, and barred from speaking directly on officers’ actions in fatal shootings. Instead, the IG could only remark on “circumstances surrounding the incident.”

While Gill and Jones were writing their joke of a job description, Serna asked Truitt Drivon for an opinion on whether Jones’ banning of Braziel was legal at all.

She took weeks to produce it. At the Oct.15 board meeting, her 12-page opinion was made public. On page six, Truitt Drivon wrote: “It should be noted that in the event a county officer refuses or fails to comply with an order or request for information from the Board of Supervisors, the Board could exercise its subpoena authority (Gov. Code, § 25170 et seq.) or ask for a Grand Jury investigation.”

Instead of carrying on with the parody of governance scheduled for Tuesday, the majority of the board of supervisors who are already alarmed by Jones should instead call the bluff of Sheriff Mini-Trump.

Supervisors Patrick Kennedy, Phil Serna and Don Nottoli should follow their own county lawyer’s advice and subpoena Jones. Or these three supervisors should call for the Sacramento County Grand Jury to investigate Jones.

A subpoena or grand jury investigation around the McIntyre killing could force Jones to explain why he thinks officers acted within policy and procedure when they conducted their chaotic chase. It could potentially force Jones to let Braziel back in.

Or the board could take a broader tactic and use a subpoena to force Jones to open his books for an audit, as Truitt Drivon’s memo outlines, so we know where the hundreds of millions he receives from the county are really being spent.

Now, all Kennedy, Nottoli and Serna really want is for Braziel to be able to do his job.

But Jones refuses. In fact, he not only says, “No,” he says, “Hell, no.”

Jones is full of bluster, diversion, misstatements, untruths, character assassination — all aided by trembling co-conspirators. It’s like you can’t even believe this is happening in Sacramento. This is red-state, rural-county stuff.

Jones said Braziel lost his trust by drawing legal conclusions in his McIntyre report — except Braziel didn’t. He said Braziel was somehow in league with Democrats in the state legislature trying to craft laws that restrict deadly use of force by law enforcement officers — except Braziel wasn’t.

See what I mean about Sheriff Mini-Trump?

But here we are, Sacramento. Not as cool as we thought we were.

The sideshow doesn’t matter, of course. None of this is funny. On the contrary, this is a call to action for Sacramento. Who are we? What do we stand for?

What matters here is accountability, transparency, civilian oversight. What matters is that one lawman — even a duly elected one — does not get to define how his department is inspected and scrutinized.

So why haven’t the supervisors done anything with Truitt Drivon’s memo? Peters and Frost are acting like it doesn’t exist.

Now, even though Truitt Drivon raised the possibility that supervisors could subpoena Jones, she also said it wasn’t a sure bet a judge would issue one, given that an elected official like a sheriff has lots of legal leeway in how they do their job.

The county counsel doesn’t talk to media but she seems to be hinting that there are some statutes that would protect Jones from oversight.

I checked with legal experts and they weren’t sure about Truitt Drivon’s oddly-written conclusion. Kevin Johnson, dean of the UC Davis Law School, said he thinks there’s a deeper legal analysis to be done than the one she provided.

He also suggested another possibility: The board could file a lawsuit asking the court to force Jones to allow the IG the access he needs to conduct investigations.

So there are options.

Whichever one they choose, the board shouldn’t abdicate its responsibility to us because Jones acts above the law. Call Jones’ bluff. Stand up for voters. Stand up for accountability. Reject authoritarianism.

Anything less would be a farce.

The Bee's Anita Chabria sat down with Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones two weeks after he locked out the department's inspector general to discuss oversight, accountability and the shooting of Mikel McIntyre.

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