‘What makes them above the law?’ Mother describes son’s fatal shooting by deputies
Two weeks after forcing out a department watchdog critical of a deputy-involved shooting, Sheriff Scott Jones maintains the Sacramento County District Attorney won’t file criminal charges in the controversial case, and deputies didn’t break any rules when firing dozens of shots at the fleeing man.
“What’s going to happen is the DA is going to come out with her findings and that shooting is going to be justified,” Jones said of the fatal May 2017 shooting of Mikel McIntyre in Rancho Cordova. “I feel quite certain of that.”
Shelly Orio, spokeswoman for District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, said via email there is no timeline for the completion of its review.
Jones’ comments came in a recent interview with The Bee to discuss the reasons behind his ouster of Sacramento County Inspector General Rick Braziel, who was hired in 2015 by the county to provide independent oversight of the department and review critical incidents.
Jones locked Braziel out of department facilities and ended his access to records and personnel days after Braziel released a report in August critical of the McIntyre shooting. Braziel concluded officers who fired 28 shots during the seven-minute encounter – including rounds shot across Highway 50 and bullets fired in the direction of another deputy and a civilian vehicle – missed opportunities to de-escalate and that “the number of rounds fired at McIntyre were excessive, unnecessary, and put the community at risk.”
McIntyre, who allegedly threw rocks at deputies including one that hit a deputy in the head, was shot from the rear in both arms and both legs, and once in his back, according to information from the county coroner included in the Inspector General’s report. He died after being transported to a local hospital.
Jones said he didn’t lock Braziel out because of the report’s criticisms, but because Jones suspected Braziel may have had ulterior political motives and conflicts of interest. Because of state privacy laws regarding law enforcement personnel, Braziel must rely on voluntary access from the sheriff’s department and the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, the union representing deputies – effectively giving Jones the unilateral ability to end Braziel’s oversight.
Jones said he was concerned politics played a part in the timing of the report’s release. He said language in the report was similar to that of a controversial use-of-force bill that recently failed to pass the state legislature. And he contended that Braziel’s advisory role at the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), which sets guidelines for many California law enforcement agencies, presented a potential conflict.
“If you look at things individually, you can say, ‘Well, it’s a conspiracy theory.’ I mean it’s a pretty big stretch to look at any one of these things and say that, ‘OK, well, he’s conflicted,’” said Jones. “And maybe so, but I can’t look at them in a vacuum individually. I’m looking at them as a totality and I’ve been at this job for a long time and I’ve been at the politics game for a long time. So when I see multiple red flags where I never saw any red flags before, it causes me concern, and then I started to analyze, as a person with a modicum of intelligence, I start to analyze whether all of these things in the aggregate cause me enough concern that I should take action. And in this particular case it did.”
Jones said he was concerned Braziel was influenced by county politics when he released his report prior to the District Attorney’s Office completing its evaluation, though Braziel has done so in multiple previous incidents. The district attorney evaluates officer-involved shootings for criminal wrongdoing. The inspector general examines critical incidents to evaluate if policy or training changes are prudent.
“Number one is the timing of the report,” said Jones. “It’s unusual, it’s convenient, it’s coincidentally suspect.”
Braziel disputed he had a political agenda in his timing.
“Had it been politically motivated, I would have released it before the June primary,” said Braziel.
Jones was up for re-election in June and won more than 50 percent of the vote, avoiding a November run-off.
Jones’ suggested Braziel’s training recommendations could have been motivated because POST recently received $15 million in one-time funding in the state budget to provide de-escalation training in California. Braziel was appointed to the commission by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015.
“You have someone here that’s engaged in some other pursuit, whether paid or not it doesn’t matter, that is being influenced for de-escalation training and coincidentally half a dozen times in this report he’s also recommending de-escalation training,” said Jones.
Braziel said he “didn’t even think about POST in this report,” and that his recommendations “were all about improving and making the sheriffs department a more progressive law enforcement agency.”
Jones also took issue with Braziel’s finding that the level of force used by two deputies in the McIntyre incident was “unnecessary.” Jones said the wording mirrored failed legislation – Assembly Bill 931 – that would have required law enforcement to use deadly force only when “necessary,” instead of the current standard of when it’s “reasonable.”
“I’m suspicious that he used the same exact language that’s in (AB 931),” said Jones.
The office of Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, the San Diego Democrat who carried AB 931, said she was not familiar with Braziel and he was not involved with the legislative push.
Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a Sacramento Democrat and the measure’s co-author, called Jones’ suggestion that Braziel biased his analysis to help AB 931 “reckless.”
“That’s preposterous. I never talked to him about it,” McCarty said. “There’s no coordination at all.”
McCarty added the McIntyre report showed cases where police practices need to be reviewed, which is why he and Weber introduced AB 931. He said he hoped that Sacramento County would continue to support Braziel’s work, despite the steps Jones had taken.
“It’s dangerous and unbecoming of our sheriff,” McCarty said.
Braziel said he did not support AB 931, and disagreed with the legislation.
AB 931 didn’t “fix the problem,” said Braziel. “You fix the problem through training, not through legislative enforcement.”
Jones said that while the critical nature of the report didn’t influence his decision to force out Braziel, he disagreed with the findings.
“(Braziel) concluded the shots were excessive, the number of shots were excessive and that the force used was unnecessary and excessive. That’s a legal conclusion that he is ill-equipped to make and it’s incorrect. I absolutely do not agree with that,” Jones said. “It’s absolutely not sound.”
Braziel said he was “disappointed” in the sheriff’s position.
“It’s almost like these are all deflections, diverting attention away from the report itself,” said Braziel. “I haven’t heard anyone talk about the recommendations and which ones aren’t valid, and which ones the sheriffs department should be implementing.”
Braziel’s report made 16 recommendations, including body cameras for deputies and more robust internal reviews.
Jones said he would review the inspector general’s recommendations and that the department has conducted internal reviews but so far has not identified any needed policy or training changes.
“Well, we haven’t shot anybody on the freeway since,” said Jones.
Jones clarified he meant the remark to be “flippant,” and would do a final review after the District Attorney completes her investigation, but he did not foresee changes. He characterized the incident as “legal, legally justified and within policy response.”
“The fact of the matter is those officers acted the way they acted with the notice and the information that was available to them at the time. They acted within policy. They acted within the law and it came to a successful, although unfortunate, resolution,” said Jones. “So, if the same thing were to happen today and the same things unfolded with the same three officers, the same bad guy doing the same actions and the same outcome occurred, I would still have no problem with it.”
Jones said he would not change his mind about allowing Braziel to resume his role as inspector general.
“I just no longer trust that he’s coming from the right place,” said Jones. “So, effectively, he’s out.”