Marcos Bretón

Sacramento’s sheriff might be deaf to the public, but supervisors heard this message loud and clear

Is the Sheriff acting legally, supervisor asks

Sacramento County First District Supervisor Phil Serna suggests more time for council to learn if Sheriff Scott Jones had the legal authority to lock out Inspector General, Rick Braziel, Tuesday, October 30, 2018, during a county supervisors meeting.
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Sacramento County First District Supervisor Phil Serna suggests more time for council to learn if Sheriff Scott Jones had the legal authority to lock out Inspector General, Rick Braziel, Tuesday, October 30, 2018, during a county supervisors meeting.

To those who spoke at Tuesday’s Sacramento County Board of Supervisor’s meeting, thank you for a remarkable moment. You have given me hope after a bleak few weeks of believing our county elected officials are completely deaf to the voice of the people.

Tuesday, an inspiring collection of citizens, some of whom said they’d never spoken at a public meeting before, stood up to Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones while he tried to finagle his way out of an ugly controversy.

They told Jones — and the supervisors — that Sheriff Mini-Trump does not get to reject independent oversight of his department.

They said to Jones — and the supervisors — that a proposed “compromise” that would water down independent oversight of his department was unacceptable to them.

Today, these citizens can feel the satisfaction that their voices were heard. I heard them. We heard them. Jones heard them. And a wavering majority of supervisors definitely heard them, too.

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Democracy won, and Jones lost.

For weeks, Jones has been unrepentant for locking Inspector General Rick Braziel out of his job providing independent oversight of the department. Facing an unexpectedly fierce and unrelenting tide of disdain from county residents tired of his arrogance, Jones came to Tuesday’s meeting with what he must have believed was a way out while saving face.

He offered to let Braziel back on the job. But there was a catch. Jones, with the help and blessing of county CEO Navdeep Gill, had rewritten the inspector general’s contract to be just about useless.

Sure, Braziel can come back. But with the new terms, he’d be under Jones’ thumb, unable to do the kind of independent analysis of deputy-involved shootings that got him into hot water with Jones in the first place.

Jones told the board he’d “whole-heartedly” welcome Braziel back with his fangs removed.

At the beginning of the meeting, a majority of board members — Sue Frost, Susan Peters, Don Nottoli and Patrick Kennedy — seemed willing to let Jones take the teeth out of independent oversight of his department. Only Phil Serna said that he would not go along.

It’s sad that it has taken more than two months of public pressure to get a majority of supervisors to remember their duty lies with the public. It’s sad that some supervisors — Peters and Frost — seem like puppets for Jones.

It would have been sad if otherwise well meaning supervisors — Nottoli and Kennedy — would have chosen Jones over their constituents.

But that didn’t happen. After a procession of speakers implored board members to represent them and not Jones, the supervisors made an unexpected switch and refused to rubber stamp the language Jones wrote.

“I want to make it clear that we have very grave doubts,” said Bruce Pomer, a leader in Sacramento’s Jewish community.

“Oversight is oversight,” said Tanya Faison, founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento.

“We need you to be accountable to us, to those who support you,” said Aliane Murphy-Hasan, a leader with the Sacramento branch the NAACP, speaking directly to Nottoli and Kennedy.

Besides the public, it was Serna, and only Serna, who kept repeating from the dais why we were at this bizarre juncture in the first place: because Jones locked Braziel out of his buildings.

That public pressure led to the extraordinary moment when the supervisors decided not to cave to Jones. Instead, they asked for more analysis of what the changes in the contract would mean, and details on how other jurisdictions oversee their sheriffs.

They will come back on Dec. 4 and publicly discuss whether Jones’ decision to block independent oversight of his department is even legal.

Hopefully, they will take a deeper dive into the language to make sure they approve a contract that ensures that independent investigations of deputy-involved shootings and jail deaths are in fact independent.

Hopefully, they will approve a contract that forbids Jones or any other Sheriff from ever locking out the inspector general again.

It’s not over yet. But after a lot of disheartening weeks, I’m hopeful.

Today, a rogue sheriff who tried to game the system instead walked away empty handed.

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