Crime - Sacto 911

State watchdog urges prosecutor to charge Sacramento sheriff over early information release

State Auditor Elaine Howle has urged Sacramento County’s district attorney to file misdemeanor charges against Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones after he preemptively shared information last month about an unpublished audit reviewing how the county issues permits for concealed weapons.

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has yet to decide whether she will take legal action against the county’s top cop, said Shelly Orio, a spokeswoman for Schubert’s office.

In a letter to the district attorney, Howle argued Jones broke California law after posting his statement, even after several written and verbal warnings by auditors of a state code that required Jones and his staff to keep information confidential until the audit’s completion. The Dec. 19 letter was obtained this month by The Sacramento Bee.

“Relying on his own legal credentials, Mr. Jones claimed that those provisions of the law, despite their clear and unambiguous prohibitions on releasing substantive information relating to a pending audit, did not apply to him and, even if they did, Mr. Jones questioned how they could be enforced against him,” Howle wrote to Schubert.

Orio confirmed in an email Friday that the District Attorney’s Office received Howle’s letter but said the allegations against Jones were still under review. She did not respond to additional requests for information that day.

“We are available to respond to questions or provide any assistance that the District Attorney’s Office may need,” Margarita Fernandez, a spokeswoman for the State Auditor’s Office, said Monday. “The matter really is in the hands of the DA.”

The Howle letter came just over a week after Jones used the Sheriff’s Department website and social media accounts to post a statement defending the county’s concealed weapon permitting system against critiques made by state auditors. At that time, the state audit was days away from being published, though Jones received a draft copy of the report.

A day after Jones posted his critique of the audit online, Howle asked him to remove his statement until the audit was published. Jones responded by arguing that the state code did not apply to the agencies being audited, only to the state auditors.

“Our position has not changed,” said Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Shaun Hampton on Saturday. “We don’t believe that the sheriff violated the law in any fashion.”

Jones will likely address Howle’s letter to Schubert sometime this week, Hampton said.

The state auditor was tasked with examining the state’s concealed carry permitting program after Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, asked the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to pursue an investigation into Jones’ office. The committee approved McCarty’s request in March 2017, and the State Auditor’s Office began its audit the following month, Howle said.

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.

Last month, Jones, a former Republican congressional candidate, criticized McCarty’s audit request as a political move created out of “questionable circumstances.”

Two other sheriff’s departments, Los Angeles and San Diego, were also examined by state auditors. Overall, the audit found that none of the departments could consistently follow their own policies when issuing concealed carry weapon permits.

The audit also found that while each agency applied state laws differently when crafting their concealed carry weapon licensing programs, auditors could not find a “bad effect from the varying approaches they have taken.”

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets. The Bee’s Darrell Smith contributed to this report.

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