Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones was in the unique role of defense witness as he faced attorneys for four female deputies who sued his department claiming they were discriminated against by officers under his command.
The sheriff and congressional candidate concluded nearly two days of testimony Wednesday in Sacramento Superior Court in the civil bias and discrimination trial against the Sheriff’s Department, defending decisions to discipline Lt. Annica Hagadorn, who filed the suit. He also denied claims of preferential treatment levied by the deputies against one of his most trusted officers. Jones is running against Democratic Rep. Ami Bera.
“There was no feasible way she could remain in patrol,” Jones testified about Hagadorn.
The department’s actions against Hagadorn stemmed from her stormy tenure as patrol supervisor that ended with acrimony among the sergeants under her command, a scathing performance review branding her as incompetent and unfit to lead, and a face-to-face meeting with the captain in January 2011 that ended with Hagadorn walking out. She later faced seven charges and an internal affairs investigation.
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The deputies absorbed career setbacks under Jones’ watch, either when Jones ran the county’s main jail from 2007 to 2008 or after he was elected sheriff of the 1,900-member department in 2010.
Plaintiffs Lt. Dawn Douglas, Deputy Jodi Mendonca and retired administrative Sgt. Tracie Keillor say they were moved from their positions at the county’s main jail after they confronted their captain, now-Undersheriff Erik Maness, with suspicions he had inappropriate contact with and gave preferential treatment to a female deputy under his command. An internal investigation found the charges to be unsubstantiated.
Douglas was later reassigned from her jail command position; Mendonca from her spot as a project manager overseeing work release programs.
Keillor said a debilitating 2013 stroke was triggered by an internal affairs probe into allegations she improperly accessed electronic personnel records. Keillor was later cleared of wrongdoing, but the medical episode ended her career.
All say their careers ground to a halt after the 2010 lawsuit, alleging they were passed up for promotions and assignments and denied opportunities to earn overtime pay. Sheriff’s attorneys argued none lost pay, rank or benefits citing issues from performance to budgetary woes – not bias or retaliation – as reasons for the reassignments.
Hagadorn received two sheriff’s internal affairs investigations in the months after she filed her bias and discrimination suit in late 2010 and was reassigned from her job as a north area patrol supervisor to a jail posting at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center near Elk Grove – a two-hour drive from her Auburn-area home. Hagadorn alleged the disciplinary transfer and the internal affairs probes were payback for filing the suit.
Jones, using Hagadorn’s voluminous internal affairs report as an elbow rest on the witness stand, said he signed off on two of the report’s charges – insubordination and willful disobedience – in February 2012. He transferred Hagadorn to Rio Cosumnes and placed her on a year-long performance improvement plan. But Jones said he stopped short of ruling Hagadorn incompetent and resisted calls for stronger punishment for the lieutenant that included a five-year demotion to sergeant.
Jones “very much did” want Hagadorn to succeed, he testified. “I felt I had a duty to help her to succeed, but I also had a duty to my department and community.”
Plaintiffs’ attorneys pressed Jones on complaints they say Keillor brought to Jones’ office regarding the female deputy when Jones ran the main jail, asking Jones whether he told Keillor to back down, and whether he or other officers had a “hands off” policy in dealing with the female deputy.
But Jones testified he could not recall Douglas, Keillor or Mendonca coming forward with any complaints about preferential treatment or untoward conduct between then-Captain Maness and the female deputy. He defended Maness as someone who deputies – male and female – routinely sought out.
“Erik has a lot of friends. He makes time for a lot of folks,” Jones said, adding that he advised Maness at one point that his “workload demand dictate that he not be as social.”
Under cross-examination on Wednesday, Jones said he had a “general recollection” of Keillor being critical of the female deputy, but could not recall the exact issues discussed.
Jones also told plaintiffs’ attorneys he was concerned that the allegations of improper conduct against the deputy and the man Jones later selected as chief deputy and undersheriff would cling to them, regardless of whether the claims were determined to be unfounded.
“I believe the allegations do have a greater propensity to damage a reputation even if they’re not sustained,” Jones said.
Trial before Sacramento Superior Court Judge David De Alba is scheduled to resume May 9.