Marcos Bretón

Who is Rick Braziel? A thorn to Sheriff Jones with a mission to save lives

‘What makes them above the law?’ Mother describes son’s fatal shooting by deputies

Brigett McIntrye, mother of Mikel McIntrye, and Sacramento Sheriff spokesman Tony Turnbull describe the incident that led to Mikel's fatal shooting by sheriff's deputies in Rancho Cordova in 2017.
Up Next
Brigett McIntrye, mother of Mikel McIntrye, and Sacramento Sheriff spokesman Tony Turnbull describe the incident that led to Mikel's fatal shooting by sheriff's deputies in Rancho Cordova in 2017.

The man Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones dismissed as a layman and locked out of his buildings in a fit of pique is a career cop whose father was a career cop. Rick Braziel worked for 30 years for the Sacramento Police department, retiring as chief in 2012.

Is it beyond strange that Jones is trying to discredit Braziel, a national expert on police practices, by challenging his credentials and motives? It is, but Braziel committed the ultimate sin in Jones’ world view: He questioned whether Jones’ officers needed to kill Mikel McIntyre, an emotionally disturbed African American man, in May of 2017. One thing you can never do is question Sheriff Jones or his department in any way. Because once you do, you are dead to him.

And with that, you have to question Jones’, not Braziel’s, commitment to improving law enforcement. Jones dismissed Braziel’s expertise. This is backward. The wrong guy is being dismissed.

In this case, Jones deactivated Braziel’s access key to enter any buildings run by the sheriff. This would make for a pretty funny headline – Extra! Extra! Sheriff changes locks out ex-chief! – if Braziel weren’t the Inspector General of Sacramento. His job description calls for him to be an independent arbiter reviewing cases of deadly force used by deputies, and reviewing deaths and allegations of abuse in the county jail, among other duties. If Braziel is locked out, he can’t do this job.

The whole reason for creating the IG job is to promote trust within a public increasingly skeptical over allegations of law enforcement abuse. The whole reason for hiring Braziel as IG is that, since retiring as Sacramento’s top cop in 2012, he has traveled the country assessing law enforcement responses to critical incidents.

Which critical incidents?

Opinion

The 2015 terrorist shooting incident in San Bernardino. The 2014 killing of a black man by Ferguson, Mo., police that triggered national protests. The 2014 bank robbery in Stockton that resulted in the death of a woman taken hostage by bank robbers. The 2014 crime spree executed by a disgruntled ex-cop who took his revenge on superiors from the Los Angeles Police Department.

He’s done many of these reports while working with the Police Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation dedicated to improving policing. He also works with the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. And he has been hired directly by police departments interested in getting better.

Braziel, 58, was the student body president of Elk Grove High School, class of 1978, and is a math whiz who has spent a career applying mathematical rigor to policing.

In his reports, Braziel did deep dives examining all elements of critical incidents by reviewing evidence in tragic cases where lives were lost. Braziel’s reports are written dispassionately and devoid of rhetoric. Braziel highlights what went right and what went wrong in each case. His recommendations are framed with the idea of arming cops with more knowledge for the next time they draw guns on a suspect.

In the Stockton report, for example, Braziel acknowledged the danger faced by officers on July 16, 2014. The Bank of the West branch was being robbed at gunpoint. The assailants were ruthless. They took three women hostage and in the gunfire, Misty Holt-Singh, a 41-year-old mother of two, was killed. The lone surviving gunman, Jaime Ramos, used Holt-Singh as a human shield in a gun battle with police. She was shot 10 times with bullets fired by Stockton Police officers. Ramos was not wounded.

Though the assailants created the danger, Braziel reported that Stockton cops fired 600 bullets, an excessive amount of shots in an hour-long siege that ended with the arrest of Ramos, and the deaths of Holt-Singh and two other gunmen working with Ramos.

Braziel concluded that Stockton cops had too many cars involved in the chase of the gunmen. They had officers firing “sympathy” shots without clear looks at the suspects. Officers recklessly fired shots that put other cops at risk of getting hit by friendly fire.

In that case, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones held a news conference with Braziel and accepted his findings, even though many of them raised serious questions about the tactics used by his officers on that fateful day.

“We said we’d accept responsibility of what happened that day,” Eric Jones said a year after the incident, with Braziel sitting next to him at the news conference. “And that’s what I’m doing again here today.”

Clearly, the top cop in Stockton named Jones is much different than the top cop in Sacramento named Jones.

Despite civil unrest breaking out across the nation over law enforcement abuses – and despite the California legislature moving closer to forcing reforms on a reluctant law enforcement community – Sheriff Jones of Sacramento is digging in and hanging on to the old ways of circling the wagons whenever questioned..

In the McIntyre case, we’re talking about a man whose family said he was suffering a mental health breakdown when he crossed paths with deputies on May 8, 2017. McIntyre got in a physical struggle with one deputy, hit him in the head with a rock and then fled until he was gunned down by other deputies on the shoulder of Highway 50 near Zinfandel Drive.

In his 27-page assessment of how deputies handled their confrontation with McIntyre, made public in August, Braziel wrote that when McIntyre hit a deputy in the head with a rock, he posed a deadly threat and shooting him dead would have been reasonable – in that moment.

But once McIntyre had fled and he had run more than a 100 feet away from deputies pursuing him, he no longer posed a deadly threat. “As the distance between McIntyre and the deputies increased, the risk of serious injury or death decreased, and with it, the need for deadly force,” Braziel wrote.

“With the number of officers and police vehicles at the scene, the barriers provided by the freeway sound wall, and the distance McIntyre would have to run to get across the freeway or up the on-ramp, an escape was unlikely.”

Jones countered that he couldn’t trust Braziel because the ex-Sacramento top cop had broken protocol by publishing his assessment of the McIntyre killing before the Sacramento County District Attorney had determined whether it was lawful.

“Not only does (Braziel) paint the officers in an inaccurate and unfairly critical light, it also places the county and the District Attorney in needlessly untenable positions,” Jones wrote in a letter to Nav Gill, the Sacramento county executive. “For the DA, he has placed an unwarranted burden on that office to have to justify their findings if they are disparate from his, even though they alone have the expertise to be the ultimate arbiter of legal propriety.”

The thing is: No rule or procedure says Braziel must wait for the DA’s office to make public his IG reports. By his own count, three of Braziel’s last four reports assessing critical incidents were published before the DA’s office concluded its review. The IG and the DA have different mandates. The DA reviews cases of law enforcement using deadly force to determine if it did so lawfully. As IG, Braziel analyzes use of deadly force for the purpose of making recommendations to arm deputies with more information for the next time they draw guns on a suspect.

“The sheriff is taking (the report) as a negative but I’m trying to save someone’s life,” Braziel said.

Jones is upset with Braziel for questioning whether McIntyre posed a deadly threat because such a threat is what gives cops license to kill in the eyes of the law. Jones is clearly worried that Braziel’s report will make it harder for the DA to determine his officers acted lawfully when they killed McIntyre.

When I asked Braziel what he thought about Jones’ comments about the DA, he said: “(Jones) clearly has no respect for the DA,” he said.

“To say the DA would be influenced by an outside source is ridiculous, he said. “People may or may not like (District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s) politics, but her office will not allow itself to be influenced by anyone.”

Braziel’s focus is a series of recommendations he made to the sheriff’s department, including:

  • Establish an after-action review, in which deputies and their supervisors candidly analyze critical incidents.
  • Begin using body cameras and microphones, which would greatly enhance the ability to analyze critical incidents.
  • Enhance critical thinking and decision-making in department training.
  • Spend more time training deputies how to transition between use-of-force options.

In the McIntyre case, he posed a deadly threat, and then he didn’t when he ran away. He was killed anyway.

Not only is Jones rejecting Braziel’s recommendations, he told a Bee reporter that his officers did nothing wrong when killing McIntyre. Deputies fired 28 shots at McIntyre. One deputy – Gabriel Rodriguez – fired 18 shots. He ran across lanes of Highway 50. He fired at McIntyre, paused as a motorist drove near McIntyre, and began firing again.

This was at the end of rush hour on a Monday on one of Sacramento’s busiest commuter arteries.

Yes, no problem there. There is nothing that can be learned or improved there. The deputies did everything right.

And as Jones said, Braziel’s opinion is “lay.” Jones said Braziel is “neither a recognized use-of-force expert nor a legal expert.”

Well, Braziel said in his report that it’s not his job to determine if the McIntyre killing was legal. Is he a use-of-force expert? You be the judge:

In his 30-year-career with Sacramento PD, Braziel commanded SWAT teams, K-9 units, patrol units. He was in charge of the day-to-day police operations in downtown Sacramento. He devised the department’s security plan for the 2000 Olympic trials, oversaw the tactical wing of the department when faced with keeping the peace during city protests.

As assistant chief, he was responsible for the training of Sac PD cadets. He was the chief of police of Sacramento for four years.

Since his retirement, he has taught leadership classes to law enforcement departments around the country as well as doing the aforementioned critical incident reviews in cases far more complex and well known than the McIntyre killing.

Braziel is not a use-of-force expert? Yeah, OK.

By locking him out and attempting to discredit Braziel, Jones is saying he and his department are above reproach. He is saying don’t ever criticize them or meddle in their affairs.

Such myopia is negative within any organization but is particularly troubling within a law enforcement organization that has already cost the county millions of dollars in legal damages. If the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and the county executive allow Jones to lock out Braziel, they are complicit in whatever trouble comes their way from Jones’ rejection of oversight and transparency.

This is how dictators behave. This is an invitation for Sheriff Jones to get re-called.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

  Comments