Sheriff Scott Jones prohibits Bee reporter from video-recording interview, then provides altered video
People of integrity support the idea that we should hold elected leaders accountable. Those who attempt to obfuscate make us wonder if they have something to hide.
And so we are sharing a series of concerning and unnecessary interactions with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department as we have investigated the shooting death of a man who threw rocks at the deputies pursuing him. We’re sharing them so you can be fully informed and, in turn, form your own opinion.
Here are the facts:
- In May 2017, three Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies shot Mikel McIntyre as he ran from a shopping mall to the shoulder of Highway 50 in Rancho Cordova.
- Over seven minutes, 28 bullets were fired. Some struck McIntyre, a 32-year-old African American man, from behind as he fled.
- Seventeen months later, McIntyre’s death is an open investigation.
- In August, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones ousted the department’s inspector general, Rick Braziel, over a report critical of the shooting. This week the county’s Board of Supervisors will likely decide whether to terminate the inspector general or to request more oversight of the Sheriff’s Department.
The Sacramento Bee has reported on the shooting for 17 months, but it hasn’t been easy. And we still have many questions.
At every step, Jones has resisted sharing information that should be available to the public. This is standard practice for the department, one of the least transparent law enforcement agencies in the area when it comes to providing this newspaper with requested public information.
Our reporters regularly file California Public Records Act requests with the department, and the department regularly denies them. Sometimes refusals border on the absurd.
In late August, Jones agreed to an interview to discuss his treatment of Braziel, the inspector general. A condition of the interview: The Bee could make an audio recording but could not bring a photographer to take pictures or video.
When reporter Anita Chabria arrived at the Sheriff’s office, his spokesman had an iPad set up to film the interview. The Bee later made a Public Records Act request for a copy of that video as a matter of principle – we believe how an on-the-record interview is conducted and preserved is a conversation between two parties, not a mandate from one.
The agency’s legal department – which he maintains separately from the county’s legal division – argued the recording was part of an investigation or pending litigation and refused to release it. We fought back, because it wasn’t.
Our lawyers argued, “the private preference of a public official not to share a record with a journalist does not trump the fundamental and necessary right of access to records established in the Public Records Act.”
The sheriff still did not release the video.
To recap: The sheriff told us we could not record video during an interview. But he did. And then a public records request for the video was denied because it was either part of an ongoing investigation or tied to pending litigation.
The county’s legal counsel – which ultimately would have to pay the cost of failed litigation (using taxpayer dollars) if The Bee pursued the record and won – persuaded the sheriff to release the video.
But that release raised even more questions.
During a key portion of the interview in which the sheriff explains he is not beholden to any outside oversight, the video cuts out. In fact, it is missing two intervals.
The Bee checked the video against Chabria’s audio to find the missing segments. You can see the discrepancy for yourself in the video attached to this story.
Through the county’s lawyers, the sheriff’s department said the footage had not been edited. They said the iPad stopped recording for a moment when the sergeant in charge of it received a phone call, causing it to stop automatically.
Transparency and trust can be elusive.
We don’t know if this is a factual explanation of the missing video. We have filed a Public Records Act request for the sergeant’s phone log to verify he received a call at that time.
This matters because destroying a public record or intentionally altering it – and again we are not sure this happened – is illegal. It is an offense punishable by up to four years in jail. More importantly, it is a violation of public trust and an abuse of power.
We’ve spent a lot of time on this effort. Time, some might say, that would be better spent following other stories.
And yet if we don’t fight for truth and transparency, who will?
So please keep your story tips and concerns coming. And thanks for your continued support of local journalism.
Lauren Gustus is Executive Editor of The Sacramento Bee and West Region Editor for McClatchy.