‘Literally, our sheriff locked the doors’: Sacramento County grand jury calls for new oversight

The Sacramento County Grand Jury endorsed calls for more oversight of the Sheriff’s Department in a new report that recommended creating a separate commission to increase accountability of the law enforcement agency.

The jury investigated citizen complaints of Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones and analyzed whether Jones illegally denied former Inspector General Rick Braziel access to the department’s buildings, records and personnel last year. Jury members also analyzed whether the county Board of Supervisors was sufficiently monitoring the department.

The grand jury determined Jones did not break the law when he locked Braziel out of the Sheriff’s Department last year. Members of the grand jury wrote that the county would need new authority to prevent a sheriff from obstructing a similar investigation in the future.

The grand jury, a commission of volunteers that issues investigative reports on local government, encouraged the Board of Supervisors to create some kind of law enforcement oversight commission by the end of this year. It recommended the county give the commission power to investigate the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office as well.

“Sacramento County-based oversight of the district attorney and sheriff is inadequate given the potential impact their policies and action could have on the communities they serve,” the report read. “The Board of Supervisors should initiate action to create a Sacramento County oversight commission with responsibilities pertaining to the district attorney and sheriff.”

The Board of Supervisors appointed Braziel, a former Sacramento police chief, as an inspector general to investigate deputies’ use of force when officers shot an emotionally disturbed African American man on Highway 50 in May 2017.

Jones locked Braziel out of the department in August 2018 after Braziel concluded his investigation into the shooting but before Braziel’s contract with the county expired. Jones in January alleged that Braziel rushed the report to help him win a contract with another police department.

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The grand jury’s recommendation for new a commission coincides with efforts by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, to create oversight boards equipped with subpoena and investigative powers.

The measure aims to give county boards of supervisors or other interest groups more authority to investigate sheriffs, who often are among the most powerful local elected officials in California’s 58 counties. Typically, sheriffs answer to voters every four years during elections and to boards of supervisors when they write budget requests.

“This can only increase public trust,” McCarty said. “It’s much bigger than Scott Jones. He was a good example, and Exhibit A as far as the need for this, but there are other counties across California that show this policy is needed.”

McCarty’s Assembly Bill 1185 narrowly passed the Assembly last month, gaining just enough votes to move to the Senate.

It gained momentum at the Senate Public Safety Committee last week, where it passed on a 6-1 vote.

McCarty this week cited Jones’ decision to lock out Braziel in encouraging the committee to pass the bill.

“Literally, our sheriff locked the doors and didn’t allow an inspector general to do his job anymore,” McCarty said at the committee hearing.

The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but Jones previously shirked the idea of third-party supervision in December.

“I’ve been described as rogue, authoritarian, a dictator, a mini-Trump,” he said, speaking to the County Board of Supervisors. “Racist, we’ll add that. All because I won’t voluntarily allow independent oversight of the sheriff’s department.”

The California State Sheriffs’ Association has called the proposed oversight bill “unnecessary.”

“Counties have already created different models of civilian oversight without the need for specific legislative authorization,” said Cory Salzillo, legislative director for the association. “The attorney general has supervision of the sheriffs if there is any question about oversight or accountability. Additionally, the Board of State and Community Corrections, civil grand juries, protection advocacy agencies inspect and oversee sheriff operations.”

Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, joined Democrats in supporting the bill and cited his experience as a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors in describing why he backed additional oversight of elected sheriffs.

During Moorlach’s tenure in local government, he said Orange County faced dozens of lawsuits involving its sheriff’s department. He described the county’s civil grand jury as “limp.”

“Saying the supervisors have the ability to control the sheriff through the budget, that’s bogus. You just cannot cut public safety in the budget,” Moorlach said.

The jury pointed to civilian commissions created throughout California that work as third parties to investigate public concerns of elected law enforcement officials. Oversight commissions In Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego, for example, are entitled to review citizen complaints, analyze policies and procedures and facilitate trust between law enforcement and the public.

“A commission could assist all parties in determining what works and what might be changed to achieve greater understanding, tolerance and trust between the parties,” the report continued. “Meetings would generally be open, involve the public, law enforcement, and hear testimony from experts and laypersons.”

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