Crime - Sacto 911

Undersheriff denies improper relationship in deputy bias case

Undersheriff Erik Maness, a central figure in a discrimination trial against the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, fielded questions about an alleged inappropriate relationship that sparked the deputies’ 2010 lawsuit in testimony Monday.

“I was upset – very upset, because I knew it wasn’t true,” Maness said from the witness stand Monday afternoon. Sheriff’s officials ultimately determined the allegations were unfounded.

The civil trial in Sacramento Superior Court resumed Monday before Judge David De Alba after a week’s recess.

Maness was a sheriff’s captain at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center near Elk Grove and later at the department’s northeast division in 2007 and 2008 when allegations of an improper relationship with a female deputy arose from within the ranks.

Tracie Keillor, a retired sheriff’s sergeant, Deputy Jodi Mendonca and sheriff’s Lt. Dawn Douglas all accuse Maness and other supervising officers of retaliating against them after they say they complained to Maness and others about the suspected relationship and the preferential treatment they said the female deputy received as a result.

The three joined a lawsuit filed by sheriff’s Lt. Annica Hagadorn, who claimed that she routinely was passed over for promotions and other career-advancing opportunities. All say their careers ground to a halt after they filed complaints with state fair-employment officials and took their cases to court.

But Maness on Monday testified he had no idea that the deputies were behind the complaints and defended the personnel moves they allege derailed their careers. Sheriff’s attorneys argue that none of the plaintiff deputies lost pay, hours, benefits or rank. Maness chalked up Keillor’s and Mendonca’s reassignments to shift work from positions at Sacramento County Main Jail to hard choices made during a deep budget crisis at the department in 2009, recalling both deputies as “outstanding.”

Maness was more critical of Douglas, who had been the jail’s operations commander, before Maness reassigned her in 2008.

“It wasn’t about her work; it was about her treatment of others that didn’t sit well with me,” Maness testified, describing Douglas’ management style alternately as “condescending,” “rude” and “inflexible.” Still, he said, her reassignment was not a disciplinary action.

But the accusations of an improper relationship still sting Maness.

He told sheriff’s attorneys that then-Undersheriff Tom McMahon said Maness’ detectives in the department’s northeast patrol had gone to the deputies’ union with the accusations and that the department was obliged to investigate.

Maness described a trouble-prone group of detectives, several of whom he said faced citizens’ complaints or disciplinary action, and suggested their complaints were a diversionary tactic.

Maness said he suspected the detectives had “generated false complaints to deflect the blame from themselves” for their own sloppy work.

But Gene Gillum, who had been a detective under Maness, testified earlier Monday that many of the rank and file in the northeast patrol suspected a relationship between the deputy, who worked at Rio Cosumnes, and their captain, describing their interaction “obviously very close” and “extremely friendly.”

“Everyone in northeast thought something was going on,” Gillum said. “For a deputy – the lowest sworn rank – to come 35 miles to a captain’s work every day and spend hours there. I thought there was something going on.”

Maness said as a young captain – he was 36 when he received captain’s bars – “most of my peer group were deputies and sergeants. These were the people who were my friends, who I associated with.”

Maness recalled questioning from sheriff’s investigators about the relationship, saying that he and the deputy were friends but always as part of a work group that celebrated birthdays and other events.

“It was as a group. As infrequently as it was, it was always as a group.”

Once the investigation into the alleged relationship ended with Maness and the deputy cleared of wrongdoing, Maness said he was ready for a new start far from northeast.

A commander’s post had opened at Sacramento County Main Jail when then-Capt. Scott Jones became Sheriff John McGinness’ assistant and Maness moved back into corrections.

“I was very frustrated, very upset,” Maness testified. “I wanted to get out (of patrol) and get a clean slate. I wanted to get out of there.”

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith