With a raucous, overflow crowd at the Sacramento Board of Supervisors alternately booing and cheering Tuesday, Sheriff Scott Jones defended his lockout of county Inspector General Rick Braziel, saying he supports the idea of such a position but warning board members not to go too far in trying to provide oversight of an independently elected official.
“An elected official should be free to do the people’s business without outside, undue influence,” Jones told the board in a hearing to debate what sort of oversight — if any — the board should have over the sheriff’s department.
Near the end of a hearing that continued for nearly five hours, supervisors voted unanimously to move ahead with a scope of services amendment to the Inspector General contract proposed by Supervisor Patrick Kennedy. The amendment language modifies the power of the Inspector General to “monitor” critical incidents and “make independent recommendations” in significant use-of-force cases, including officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. The Inspector General may also independently conduct investigations at the request of the Board of Supervisors, according to meeting documents.
Supervisors also passed a motion to draft a memorandum of understanding with the sheriff that would allow any future Inspector General to have unfettered access to officer-involved shooting scenes.
The crowd that spilled out into the board chamber’s lobby was split between Jones supporters and opponents who want greater transparency and oversight of officer-involved shootings and other major incidents.
The crowd, which by early afternoon included 150 people who had asked to speak to the board, repeatedly interrupted Jones as he stood in full dress uniform addressing the panel near the beginning of the meeting.
“I’ve been described as rogue, authoritarian, a dictator, a mini-Trump...,” Jones said before he was interrupted by an audience member calling him a “racist.”
“OK, a racist,” Jones continued, “all because I won’t allow independent oversight of the sheriff’s department. ...This seems strange to me. ... No other sheriff’s department in the state has oversight that is being contemplated here.”
Jones, who has been under pressure to begin releasing videos of officer-involved shootings and other incidents, made no mention of his department’s announcement late Monday that he would begin doing so, or its release of footage of an incident inside his main jail that ended with the death of an inmate.
Instead, Jones argued that he does not oppose the idea of an inspector general and listed his department’s accomplishments in reducing crime and improving diversity in the department.
“I can’t help but wonder where we are falling short,” Jones said.
He and supporters who spoke to the board criticized media coverage of the department, with the sheriff repeating his criticism of The Sacramento Bee as an “irresponsible and unaccountable newspaper.”
Jones also brought along former Sheriff John McGinness, who handpicked Jones as his successor and told the board that the inspector general’s position has faltered under Braziel.
“The trust in this relationship has eroded, it has broken down,” McGinness said. “It’s time to look in another direction.”
Many in the audience disputed such comments, with Tanya Faison, founder of Sacramento’s Black Lives Matters chapter, delivering a withering rebuke to Jones over his stewardship of the department.
“So, this sheriff’s department has refused to release requested information to the families of people that their deputies have killed and abused,” Faison said.
Tuesday’s meeting was the fourth time supervisors have discussed the issue in an ongoing tug-of-war with Jones, who has publicly flouted independent oversight of his agency.
Monday, Jones made a major change in the department’s video release policy, releasing more than two hours of video and audio on the in-custody death of Marshall Miles, 36. Miles fell into a coma after being booked into the main jail Oct. 28. He was released on “compassionate leave” from sheriff’s custody, the department said, and transported to the hospital where he died Nov. 1.
The video shows Miles struggling with multiple deputies who hogtie his hands and ankles behind his back before carrying him into a cell. Deputies uncuffed him and left the cell, but rushed back 39 seconds later when he remained unresponsive.
Deputies performed CPR and called paramedics but were unable to revive him.
Latanya Andrews, Miles’ mother, and his sister, Maureen Miles, attended Tuesday’s hearing, saying in an interview before it began that the video Jones released did little to answer their concerns, especially portions of the footage where Miles continually said he could not breathe.
“Why were they not catering to his pleas that he could not breathe?” his sister asked. “He said he couldn’t breathe over 20 times. They were laughing and disregarding it like it was funny.”
“They should have seen he needed some kind of care, and they didn’t care. They just picked him up and took him to the cell ... He looked like he was dying the whole time he was in their custody.”
Maureen Miles said her family received no notice prior to the release of the video and were not given the opportunity to watch before the footage was made public. She also noted that the released video did not show that his mother appeared at the gas station in North Highlands where Miles was being arrested and begged deputies to take him to a hospital.
“He kept saying ‘help me, mom, help me,’” Latanya Andrews said.
“They didn’t show the part where mom was pleading with them to take my brother to the hospital because they obviously seen he wasn’t in the right mind and he needed some kind of medical assistance,” Maureen Miles added.
The video release included footage from dashboard cameras, in-car cameras, security surveillance and a deputy’s hand-held camera in the jail. Sheriff’s deputies are not equipped with body cameras.
Jones had been opposed to releasing video in critical incidents, saying previously he did not support the practice because he thought it would affect investigations and weaken prosecution.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Shaun Hampton said the release was part of a policy the department has yet to finalize but that it has been working on for months.
“The is the direction the sheriff’s department is moving in the future,” he said, adding that the department plans to release all video in major use-of-force incidents, officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths.
This change in course comes eight months before a new California law that will require police departments to release within 45 days audio or video footage of shootings or other incidents involving serious use of force.
The about-face in department policy was announced the night before an ongoing and contentious debate with the Board of Supervisors over independent oversight of the sheriff’s department.
The debate started when Jones locked Braziel out of department facilities and ended his access to personnel and records, effectively blocking Braziel’s ability to provide oversight. The lockout came days after Braziel released a report critical of the May 2017 fatal shooting of an emotionally troubled African American man, Mikel McIntyre, along Highway 50 in Rancho Cordova. McIntyre hit an officer in the head with a rock and fled, later hitting a police dog and another officer with a second rock. Officers fired multiple shots, hitting McIntyre seven times.
Braziel questioned whether officers needed to continually use deadly force against McIntyre or could have switched to less-lethal measures.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert released her review of the shooting Nov. 20, finding the deputies’ actions to be lawful.
Despite the conclusion of that review and the sheriff’s announcement that he will start releasing videos of officer-involved shootings, the department on Tuesday rejected a public records act request from The Bee for footage of the McIntyre shooting.
Braziel’s contract ended last month. The board has not hired a replacement and was debating Tuesday what authority it can give to an inspector general to review incidents involving the sheriff’s department.