California Attorney General Xavier Becerra may be lauded by national publications for leading “the resistance” against the policies of President Donald Trump, but he’s AWOL on the home front.
In Sacramento, Becerra’s hometown, there is a rogue sheriff who says openly that he is not subject to civilian oversight. At a recent meeting of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, Sheriff Scott Jones all but hoisted a middle finger at county supervisors who dared question him and his authority.
When the Inspector General of Sacramento County had the nerve to issue a report calling into question the tactics of Jones’ deputies in a fatal shooting, Jones locked the IG out of his building.
Mind you, the Inspector General is Rick Braziel, the former Sacramento police chief, who is a national authority on use-of-force tactics.
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Braziel was also acting like the independent reviewer of the sheriff’s department that his job calls for him to be. Braziel examined a case in which county deputies killed Mikel McIntyre, an emotionally troubled African American man, in May of 2017. They shot at him 28 times near and along the shoulder of HIghway 50 near Zinfandel Drive.
In exhaustive detail, Braziel found that McIntyre initially posed a mortal threat to officers. But that threat diminished as he fled on foot. He found that deputies had ample forces on the ground to arrest McIntyre without killing him. They didn’t and Braziel presented a series of recommendations that deputies could use the next time they pointed their guns at a suspect.
Jones blew his stack. He basically referred to Braziel as a layman, rattled off a couple of easily debunked conspiracy theories about Braziel — as pretense for losing trust in him — and then said that he would never let him in his building again.
When supervisors Patrick Kennedy and Phil Serna tried to call Jones out for this, Jones smirked and wisecracked his way through an astonishing display of arrogance that sets him apart from any other elected official in Sacramento County.
So where does Becerra come in?
The Constitution of California says that Becerra has direct authority over sheriffs and district attorneys.
Article V, Section 13 of the state constitution says this: “The Attorney General shall have direct supervision over every district attorney and sheriff and over such other law enforcement officers as may be designated by law, in all matters pertaining to the duties of their respective offices.”
Last month, Serna wrote to Becerra asking for help.
“The practical consequence of Sheriff Jones’ actions is that the residents of Sacramento County are immediately left without the ability to apply independent review of in-custody deaths, officer involved shootings, reports of profiling and other concerns brought to the attention of the IG,” Serna wrote on Sept. 12, a day after Jones told the board that he is not subject to their authority.
When the Bee asked Becerra for a comment we got a big “no comment.” The AG is high on Politico Magazine’s 50 Most Influential people list, No. 12 in fact. That’s higher than Chief Justice John Roberts, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex.
“(Becerra) has staked much of his job on fighting Trumpism in court, suing the administration more than 40 times,” Politico’s Scott Lucas wrote. “Although many of the cases are still before the courts, Becerra has won at least 15 times, counting preliminary injunctions.”
Cool. How about doing something about Jones? California is very anti-Trump, so taking on the president is not politically risky in a state devoid of any significant Republican elected officials. But taking on a local sheriff means taking on local law enforcement. Law enforcement in California still wields outsized power and contributes to campaigns such as Becerra’s — he is running against Republican Steven Bailey, a retired judge.
So why does Becerra have to get involved at all? Why can’t the county provide oversight over Jones?
Because the answer to the second question is, well, it can, but it won’t.
At the Sept. 11 board meeting, Serna and Kennedy cited language in the Sacramento County Charter showing Jones did have to cooperate with county leaders:
“All elective officers of the County and all officers appointed by the Board of Supervisors, shall cooperate with the said County Executive to the end that complete coordination of all officers, services and employment, shall be accomplished, and the refusal of any such officer to so cooperate shall be deemed willful misconduct on the part of the officer so refusing.”
Here is the catch: Sacramento County Executive Nav Gill is not only showing no signs of citing Jones for “willful misconduct,” Gill has already moved on. Either at Tuesday’s board meeting, or soon after, the discussion on the board is expected to move toward finding a new Inspector General. Braziel can’t do his job if he can’t enter sheriff’s buildings, Jones knows that, and won’t let him him in.
So, is Jones in violation of the county charter or not? We don’t know. Supervisors have asked County Counsel Robyn Truitt Drivon for a legal opinion. It has been weeks in the making. The Bee asked to see the opinion but we were denied for reasons of attorney/client privilege.
Drivon won’t talk directly to The Bee. Neither will Gill.
Two supervisors — Sue Frost and Susan Peters — seem inclined to do anything that Jones says. Serna and Kennedy are challenging him. That leaves Don Nottoli as the swing vote.
Based on public comments Nottoli has a made, he seems very likely to vote with Frost and Peters to search for a new independent overseer of the sheriff’s department who would be independent so long as he or she never gets on Jones’ bad side.
Or, in other words, Nottoli faces the prospect of voting to search for a new independent IG who wouldn’t be independent at all.
How Nottoli would be able to live with himself if he eventually buckles to Jones is beyond comprehension. Nottoli was the champion to have an IG in the first place. He knows Braziel does a good job. He knows Braziel did nothing wrong. He knows going with Jones would mean that Braziel lost his job for doing his job.
So the answer is, Becerra should step in. Because if he doesn’t, he is allowing Jones not only to resist oversight, but flaunt his resistance. Is that what we want in Sacramento? Or in California? A sheriff who acts like a dictator?
This situation calls out for Becerra and for other local elected officials to intervene. It provides impetus for people such as Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, to craft statewide legislation that, if enacted, would give direct authority to supervisors, such as Serna and Kennedy, to compel law enforcement leaders, such as Jones, to submit to independent unconditional oversight.
If this farce continues toward kowtowing to Jones, local elected officials — Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, among others — should get off the sidelines and say simply: We don’t tolerate autocrats in Sacramento.
Where are the advocates raising their voices against this form of law enforcement intransigence? Where is Black Lives Matter? Where are African American leaders and local civil libertarians?
Serna and Kennedy are just two votes of five and they have no direct authority over Jones. But Becerra does. An entire community should have his back. But, first, he has to put his back into it.