The beginning of the end for Sacramento County inspector general Rick Braziel may have come last year in a brief, curt phone call with Sheriff Scott Jones.
Jones, who was running for a third term after his hand-picked successor backed out of the race, had been hearing rumblings that Braziel was thinking of launching his own campaign.
As inspector general, Braziel was tasked with reviewing any shootings by Jones’ deputies, and the sheriff was perplexed at the idea that Braziel could fill that role and run for office at the same time.
“So I did call him, and I said, ‘I hear that you are telling people you’re running for sheriff. Is that true?’” Jones recalled in a recent interview with The Bee.
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Braziel, whose candidacy was being pushed by supporters on Facebook but who had not commented himself, was “circumspect,” Jones said.
Jones was direct in his message.
“I said, “That’s fine, I’m a big fan of the democratic process. But if you are going to run for sheriff you cannot simultaneously be inspector general.’”
Braziel’s recollection is similar, and the former Sacramento police chief said he had been cautioned against challenging Jones.
“I was warned ahead of time that when you do that there’s an evil side of the sheriff, the evil will come out, and the evil came out,” Braziel said. “That’s when I learned, ‘I will lock you out, you have a conflict of interest and, basically, I gave you this cushy job, so you’re beholden to me and I expect you to do things.’”
Months later, Jones won election in a race that Braziel declined to enter.
Two months after that, following Braziel’s release of a deputy-involved shooting report that was critical, Jones locked Braziel out of his buildings and the jail, essentially ending his role as inspector general.
The ensuing conflict has pitted two of the region’s most experienced lawmen against each other.
It also has ended – for now – independent reviews of how Northern California’s largest law enforcement agency handles officer-involved shootings, deaths in custody and other critical incidents.
In separate recent interviews with The Bee, both men agree that the catalyst for the lockout was Braziel’s finding that elements of the May 2017 shooting death of Mikel McIntyre were “excessive” and “unnecessary.”
“The straw that broke the camel’s back, the thing that made me take the extraordinary step of cutting it off immediately, was that report,” Jones said.
But both Jones and Braziel, whose contract with the county expired Nov. 30, said the issue is larger than the report on McIntyre, a rock-throwing suspect who was fired at 28 times by deputies and killed as he ran along Highway 50.
“It’s much bigger than that,” Braziel said. “It’s really a sheriff who doesn’t like oversight, doesn’t like someone telling him that the things that are done at the sheriff’s department are not perfect, are not 100 percent correct.”
To Braziel, Jones’ department is a throwback that does not properly track deputies’ use of force, doesn’t conduct robust internal investigations and has refused to release videos of critical incidents while other departments – Sacramento and Los Angeles police, for instance – are embracing such transparency.
He claims the department has no way to quantify uses of force involving weapons considered less deadly than guns, such as batons, flashlights or pepper spray, and that Jones and his senior staff do not bother to review the videos of deputy-involved shootings until long after they have occurred.
“Red flag number one is nobody in the executive staff views the shootings,” Braziel said. “You have multiple deputies shooting on Highway 50 during rush hour and nobody for months on the executive staff is looking at the videos.”
Jones flatly denies such claims, noting that he drove to the McIntyre shooting shortly after it occurred and that the department has a rule that video and other evidence in every such incident is reviewed within 48 hours.
“That is 100 percent untrue,” Jones said of Braziel’s criticism.
Tracking how other types of force are applied is handled differently, and Braziel says he discovered the sheriff’s department has no efficient way to track such incidents.
“They don’t track their use of force,” he said. “Nobody reviews their use of force that I can tell.”
“Shootings, yes. So, if you’re a deputy and you went out and used your baton on somebody, there’s no use of force form, it doesn’t work its way up through the chain of command.
“When I asked for how many times batons were used, the answer was, ‘Well, I guess we could do a word search through our records management to see how many results we come up with.’ That’s useless.”
For years, he has recommended using a software program designed for law enforcement, but the department has been slow to fully adopt it, he said.
The sheriff’s department disputes Braziel’s characterization, saying officials “separately and comprehensively track all uses of force from our Tasers, shotguns, Law Enforcement Rifles, and 37mm (baton gun).”
“We can recall and break down this data in various ways, and the data dashboard is available to all our command staff,” spokesman Sgt. Shaun Hampton wrote in an email. “Additionally, in our jails, we also complete a ‘use of force’ packet anytime we go ‘hands-on’ with a person and there is (any) injury or complaint of pain.”
Hampton agreed there is no tracking database that can quantify how many times batons or flashlights are used against suspects by patrol deputies, but he wrote that “significant uses of force or injury (are) documented in applicable reports.”
Asked for examples of reports from the tracking system, he was not immediately able to provide them, but said as an example that Tasers had been deployed 16 times over the past six months. He could not immediately say how many officers were involved in those use of force incidents, or if the system could track use of force by individual officer.
The dispute between Jones and Braziel has roiled the community, with the county Board of Supervisors holding four sometimes-contentious meetings over what kind of oversight the sheriff’s department should face.
Jones maintains that, as an independently elected official, he has the right to lock out an inspector general who he believes has exceeded his authority and his level of expertise, one he has referred to as a “layman” with insufficient knowledge in reviewing shooting scenes.
“I also have 2,100 employees that I have to protect, no other politician has that,” Jones said. “The Board of Supervisors don’t. Nobody has that. I do, and so I’m the CEO of a 2,100-member half-billion dollar corporation.”
The supervisors, who control Jones’ budget, have been told by county counsel that they can press the matter by suing the sheriff, but instead are seeking a compromise that the board and sheriff can agree upon.
In a meeting last week, the board unanimously voted to draft a memorandum of understanding with Jones.
Supervisors also unanimously adopted a proposal from Supervisor Patrick Kennedy that toughened contract language for any future inspector general to say the IG must “monitor” significant use of force incidents, including officer involved shootings and in-custody deaths, within the sheriff’s department and report to the board. Supervisors can request independent investigation.
“We are charting some new territory here,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said the language is important because it “reserves our legal rights and that can be through subpoena power, that can be through going to the grand jury, that can be through directly litigating against the sheriff,” he said. “And it can be go to the attorney general if necessary. So we have a litany of options available to us, not the least of which is litigation.”
They also have discussed passing an ordinance that would give an inspector general authority to review uses of force and report directly to board members.
“The passage of an ordinance is entirely within the realm of possibility in the future,” Kennedy said.
Whatever the supervisors decide, the outcome will by the latest in years of efforts to determine how the sheriff’s department’s use of force is reviewed.
Unlike the city police, where Chief Daniel Hahn answers directly to the city manager and mayor and council, Jones and his predecessors have largely remained independent of such oversight.
The Sacramento District Attorney’s office reviews officer-involved shootings, but only to determine whether criminal charges against a deputy are warranted, a finding Anne Marie Schubert’s office has never made.
For a brief period starting in 2011 during the economic downturn, the District Attorney’s office did not even conduct those reviews because of staffing issues.
The inspector general’s position also has been somewhat of a part-time operation.
The county created the post in 2007 and filled it with attorney Lee Dean, who served until the end of 2012 and who Jones said was in frequent communication with the department and provided constructive suggestions.
Dean’s tenure was not without criticism; the Sacramento grand jury issued a report following his retirement that found “no information that indicated the OIG completed an analysis of a single shooting incident or a series of incidents, beyond the summary information published in the annual report.”
The grand jury report, with which Jones largely agreed, called for detailed analysis of each officer-involved shooting and greater use of “lessons learned” from each incident.
But following that report the county didn’t fill the position again for nearly three years, hiring Braziel in November 2015 after a 33-year career with the Sacramento Police Department.
Since then, Braziel has issued nine reports and, until the McIntyre report, did not believe he had any issues with Jones or his staff.
“There were no issues raised, I thought everything was fine,” Braziel said.
The McIntyre shooting, in which Braziel questioned why officers continued to fire at him as he ran along the crowded freeway, hitting him at least six times from the rear, was a “bad” shooting, Braziel says.
McIntyre’s death is now the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit, and Braziel acknowledges he likely will be a star witness for the family against the department if the case goes to trial.
Jones has refused to release video recordings from the MyIntyre or other previous shootings. But his department has released footage from an in-custody death in the jail last week as part of a policy being crafted in anticipation of a new law that takes effect July 1 and requires release of police video and audio recordings in shootings within 45 days in most cases.
Jones maintains that even before the McIntyre report he was increasingly concerned about what he saw as conflicts of interests by Braziel and a series of meetings he canceled with Undersheriff Erik Maness, his main point of contact with the department.
He also says he was disenchanted with Braziel’s work product.
“If anyone goes back and looks at his reports and reads them, any of them or all of them, all of his reports are critical,” Jones said. “He’s never said anything flattering about anything we’ve ever done.”
Braziel says his job was not to provide public relations work for the sheriff.
“I don’t believe the sheriff believes that people can disagree with him,” he said.
The only thing the two agree upon is that neither likely will be around for the long-term to see how the oversight role plays out in future years.
Braziel said he does not see a realistic way he can return to the inspector general’s post and is non-committal about whether he might someday run for sheriff.
Jones said his campaigning days are over.
“100 percent I will not run for sheriff again,” he said.