Marcos Bretón

Women triumph over Sheriff’s Department’s ‘bro culture.’ Too bad we have to pay for it

Sheriff Scott Jones: 'Department strongly disagrees with verdict'

Jurors awarded more than $3.57 million in damages to the four veteran female sheriff’s deputies who claimed their Sheriff’s Department superiors retaliated against them for speaking out against discrimination and preferential treatment in their ra
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Jurors awarded more than $3.57 million in damages to the four veteran female sheriff’s deputies who claimed their Sheriff’s Department superiors retaliated against them for speaking out against discrimination and preferential treatment in their ra

Sacramento County will have to cough up millions of dollars in court costs and penalties because, well, boys will be boys.

Opinion

In this case, the boys are leaders of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. Their “bro” culture is so strong they will defend it, costs be damned. And it’s costing plenty.

How much? Try more than $10 million.

On Monday, we learned the county thankfully decided to drop its appeal of a $3.6 million court judgment against the Sheriff’s Department in a workplace discrimination suit filed by four female sheriff’s deputies. Last year, jurors in the case found that the deputies had been harassed and retaliated against by their superiors, including the No. 2 person in the department: Undersheriff Erik Maness.

In addition, the judge ordered the county to pay $5.3 million in legal fees. The county had spent more than $1.15 million to take the case to trial and file appeals before finally deciding enough was enough.

“We were not brimming with confidence of likely success (for the county appeal),” said county Supervisor Phil Serna, who, along with the other supervisors, oversees the sheriff’s budget.

It’s a good thing the curtain finally is falling on this case. It’s ridiculous that it has dragged on for this long.

It started with a relationship between Maness and a female deputy named Kristyn Beezley. The two spent an inappropriate amount of time together considering that Maness was Beezley’s supervisor. According to the court records, Lt. Dawn Douglas, Sgt. Tracie Keillor and Deputy Jodi Mendonca said that Beezley was insubordinate to them. But Sacramento County jurors agreed that Maness protected Beezley and retaliated against Douglas, Keillor and Mendonca when they tried to discipline Beezley.

(The fourth deputy suing the department, Lt. Annica Hagadorn, said she was retaliated against for complaining about being passed over for promotion.)

Maness denied having an improper relationship with Beezley, but whether they did or didn’t is beside the point. From reading the court transcripts, it was clear that Maness took an inappropriate interest in Beezley, up to and including getting involved in her performance review after she was no longer reporting to him.

Maness’ clashes with the female deputies who sued him were unnecessary and avoidable. It was obvious from court testimony that the sheriff’s brass did not take this issue seriously, did not properly investigate it and pretty much blew the whole thing off.

This lawsuit first was filed in 2010. Rather than acknowledging the lack of professionalism exhibited by Maness, the leadership in the Sheriff’s Department, their lawyers and the county decided to fight this case – and they lost big.

Jurors rejected testimony from a who’s who in Sacramento County law enforcement, including former Sheriff John McGinness, current Sheriff Scott Jones, Maness and other leaders.

Some of the best trial lawyers in the county litigated a case that might have been resolved years before if someone – McGinness? Jones? – had stepped in and told Maness to knock it off. I interviewed Mendonca last year and she told me that she felt the entire department was against her for daring to question Maness.

At any point, the leaders of the Sheriff’s Department could have considered the greater good of the department by addressing the concerns of the female deputies. But they decided to fight it out in a prolonged legal battle instead. It’s not their money, after all.

Jones wasn’t in charge when the misdeeds took place, so he can’t directly be blamed here. But through his public comments, he has continued to defend his department in this case. He has said before that the department does good work, and they do. He has said a testament to its strength is its lack turnover.

Maybe in this case that is a weakness. Maybe the department is so stable and settled that they can’t see their own flaws.

The county – and taxpayers, by extension – will pay for those flaws.

The county is insured to cover lawsuits up to a point, Serna said. However, judgments that exceed costs covered by insurance are paid by the departments that were sued. “If the cost is financed by the department, that means the department has less money to carry out its mission. In the case of the sheriff’s, that would mean less dollars for patrol, the jail, youth services, capital costs, etc.,” he said.

Serna, who has been critical of the Sheriff’s Department in the past, said the case is about more than just the four female deputies who sued.

“It’s a fraternal organization,” Serna said of the department. “The women who brought suit didn’t feel that organization had their backs. That’s a very difficult position to be put in. … For me, it wasn’t just the plaintiffs I was feeling for. It was for all the women at the Sheriff’s Department.

Marcos Bretón: 916-321-1096, @MarcosBreton

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