Crime - Sacto 911

Testimony continues in civil bias suit against Sheriff’s Department

Patch worn by members of the Sacramento Country Sheriff’s Department
Patch worn by members of the Sacramento Country Sheriff’s Department

Dawn Douglas and Jodi Mendonca worked in the county’s jails, Douglas as a lieutenant and operations commander at downtown Sacramento’s Main Jail, Mendonca, as administrative deputy at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center near Elk Grove.

Each went to her superior with complaints about a female deputy under his command. She had been insubordinate, Douglas said. She violated policy, dressing suggestively and unsafely on the job, Mendonca said.

Both Douglas and Mendonca asserted their superior officer and the deputy had a special friendship that led him to treat the deputy preferentially and that Douglas’ and Mendonca’s careers ground to a halt when they confronted him with their concerns.

For days now, the female plaintiffs have testified in their sex and race discrimination case against the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department in Sacramento Superior Court before Judge David De Alba.

Mendonca, now retired, and Douglas, along with sheriff’s lieutenant and patrol supervisor Annica Hagadorn and corrections Sgt. Tracie Keillor, sued the department in 2010 alleging that bias and retaliation from their superiors derailed long and successful careers at the department.

They say they were the targets of retaliation at the hands of department superiors. They say they were reassigned and opportunities to advance and earn overtime pay were thwarted, while job and project committee assignments went to others despite the plaintiffs’ qualifications and experience. They had also become the subject of internal affairs investigations.

Douglas was removed from her operations post; Mendonca from hers as a project manager, where she oversaw budgets for an alphabet soup of jail programs.

“I felt like a part of me was lost,” Mendonca testified Tuesday of her 2009 reassignment in Sacramento Superior Court.

“The position wasn’t eliminated. I was replaced. There was no reason to do this. I did nothing wrong.”

The plaintiffs’ allegations span the years 2006 to 2009 when then-Capt. Scott Jones oversaw the Sacramento County Main Jail. Jones was elected sheriff in 2010, ran unopposed for re-election in 2014 and is now competing for a seat in Congress against incumbent Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove.

Meanwhile, the preferential treatment afforded the female deputy extended to performance reviews and assignments, plaintiffs’ attorneys argued on Wednesday. The deputy had received a rare “outstanding” rating in all reviewable categories, though her evaluator, sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Mendoza, now retired, testified he relied on the deputy for accounts of her performance in certain programs and was not entirely familiar with her work.

Mendoza also struggled to recall being told the deputy’s personnel file had gone missing and denied he backdated the deputy’s June 2007 performance review. Plaintiffs’ attorneys showed Mendoza a January 2008 email addressed to him from plaintiff Keillor asking for a copy of the deputy’s evaluation “since there is no copy in her personnel file and her name keeps popping up for another,” the email read.

The deputy had also “desired to” transfer from jail to patrol, Mendoza said, though in earlier testimony, Douglas said the deputy had not been trained for patrol duty. The deputy was ultimately reassigned to patrol, plaintiffs’ attorneys said.

Mendonca, under lengthy cross-examination by sheriff’s attorneys on Tuesday, said her troubles at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center began in 2006 after confronting her superior about the appearance of an inappropriate work relationship between him and the female deputy, a jail work project coordinator, including what she saw as inappropriate contact in an office doorway during a meeting.

“To me, it appeared to be unprofessional. It was embarrassing,” Mendonca said.

Mendonca testified the closed-door conversation ended with her superior telling her to butt out.

She also testified to the female deputy’s choice of attire – described as bare-shouldered blouses with plunging necklines, blue jeans in violation of general orders, and high-heeled pumps – after transferring to the facility. When Mendonca broached that topic in 2007, she said her superior again told her not to interfere.

She said payback began after she went to the deputies’ union, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, with her complaints in June 2008. She was moved back into shift duty in 2009, said she was denied overtime hours when overtime was available to other employees and said she was stopped from seeking funding grants for her programs.

But sheriff’s attorney David Burkett pushed back on nearly every front, suggesting the female deputy was unfairly targeted by Mendonca. Under questioning, neither Mendonca nor Douglas could say they saw their superior and the female deputy exchange kisses or hold hands. Burkett at one point, questioned Mendonca’s own work relationship with another superior officer, asking if there was anything inappropriate about having a work friend.

“If it’s professional, no,” Mendonca replied.

Burkett argued that few deputies at the jail – male or female – were immune from drastic budget cuts that hit the department in 2009.

He added that Mendonca was offered a different position that she declined, but was able to keep her job and rate of pay despite the department’s budget woes.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith