Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones has landed in a dispute with the State Auditor’s Office after he released information this week about an unpublished audit examining his office’s concealed weapons permit process.
In a move rarely seen before a state audit release, Jones on Monday distributed a statement outlining points he felt reflected well on his office and attached a copy of his response to the audit findings. The sheriff, a Republican, used his response in part to suggest the audit was spurred by the political motivations of Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Jones, State Auditor Elaine Howle alleged that Jones broke state law with the early release of audit information. She said her office repeatedly informed Sheriff’s Department staff that releasing details about the audit before its publication was unlawful and asked his staff to “refrain from discussing our work with any person.”
She also said the audit response Jones released Monday had language that was not included in his original response to the State Auditor’s office during the review period.
“Disclosure of substantive audit information poses the very legitimate risk that incomplete or inaccurate information will be relayed to the public and to decision makers,” she said.
The letter cites a government code that restricts California State Auditor’s staff from releasing audit information before it’s been publicly published. A second law cited says that the restriction also applies to any “publicly created entity that has assisted the office in the course of any audit or investigation or that has received a draft copy of any report or other draft document from the office for comment or review.” Violations are considered misdemeanors.
Jones was not available by phone on Wednesday as he was at an out-of-town conference and had poor cellphone coverage, said department spokesman Sgt. Shaun Hampton. But in a written response, Jones asserted the state law does not apply to him.
“Even a quick read shows that it doesn’t apply to auditees, only to them,” he wrote in a message Wednesday. “Based on how the audit came about, I found it important to get my statement out. I did not publish the audit draft at all.”
The audit scheduled for release Thursday examines concealed carry weapon permitting in Sacramento County, San Diego County and one other unnamed county.
Jones campaigned in 2010 on a pledge of granting concealed weapons permits to eligible applicants. When Jones entered office, only about 350 civilians were licensed to carry concealed handguns in Sacramento County. Between 2011 and 2016, that number climbed to nearly 8,000.
In his Monday letter, Jones said the audit overall confirmed the “propriety and integrity” of the Sheriff’s Department’s concealed carry weapon permit system, adding that auditors could not find any permits that were issued improperly or contrary to law.
Jones also criticized some of the auditor’s findings, one of which claims the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office does not have adequate policies to ensure applicant’s residency and background checks are properly documented, he wrote in his letter. He defended the Sheriff’s Office, saying that policies, either written or verbal, are meant to serve as guidelines and are not applicable in every situation.
It is not yet clear what the auditor concluded, as the audit remains unavailable to the public.
Jones called into question the conception of the audit in the first place as well, claiming it was created as out of “questionable circumstances” and was a political move by McCarty.
McCarty requested the audit earlier this year to examine the fiscal and public safety impacts of concealed carry weapon programs in California following a Sacramento Bee investigation that found a sharp increase in concealed gun permitting in Sacramento County since Jones became sheriff.
At one point, McCarty said Jones was issuing the licenses like “candy on Halloween,” and the assemblyman aimed to limit the number of concealed weapons in the state.
McCarty drafted two bills related to concealed weapons last year, one that would have allowed sheriffs to raise the price of obtaining a permit to carry a concealed weapon; Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it in September 2016, saying that it attempted to address a “local dispute in one county” and that there was no larger statewide problem.
The other would have created a stricter standard for issuing permits but stalled before reaching a policy committee hearing.
McCarty will wait until the audit is released to the public before making any comments, said Terry Schanz, McCarty’s spokesman. McCarty has not yet seen the audit, Schanz said.
“Regardless of what Sheriff Jones is stating, none of us really know if anything in his statements is factual or not,” Schanz said.
Jones’ audit statements were posted Monday on several websites, including Nextdoor, Facebook, Twitter and the Sheriff Department’s. The response also went to media outlets via email.
Howle asked Jones to remove his comments about the audit from the sites until it was published. The letter remained on the Sacramento County Sheriff’s website and Facebook page as of Wednesday morning.
It will be up to a law enforcement entity to determine if it wants to take action in the incident, said Margarita Fernández, a State Auditor’s Office spokeswoman.