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Decency and common sense beat the sheriff – for now – with a vote to keep oversight

Sheriff Scott Jones speaks to Board of Supervisors about oversight

Sheriff Scott Jones speaks to the County Board of Supervisors about the Inspector General oversight of his department, Tuesday, December 4, 2018.
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Sheriff Scott Jones speaks to the County Board of Supervisors about the Inspector General oversight of his department, Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones was rebuked loudly and clearly by a wide cross section of Sacramento on Tuesday. At the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting, the Sheriff heard it from one speaker after another who told Jones to his face that he couldn’t bully them, bluff them or shake them from the belief that he has abused his authority as sheriff.

Supervisors heard the public as well and voted unanimously to toughen the language of an independent inspector general tasked with reviewing deputy-involved shootings and deaths at county jail facilities. Supervisors also voted to draft an agreement that would prevent Jones from ever interfering with the IG again, as he did in August by barring the then-inspector general, former Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel, from entering his buildings when Jones didn’t take kindly to Braziel’s constructive criticism of a fatal shooting involving deputies in May of 2017.

Braziel questioned whether deputies had to kill Mike McIntyre, an emotionally fragile African American man on Highway 50.

Jones responded by literally locking Braziel out of buildings that are funded by the Board of Supervisors - and taxpayers.

Was it even legal for Jones to do this? We don’t know, but supervisors were told on Tuesday by their lawyer – Robyn Truitt Drivon – that there is an option of filing a civil lawsuit to challenge Jones legally but “it hasn’t been pushed.”

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As Truitt Drivon finished this sentence there was an audible gasp among an overflow crowd at the supervisors’ chambers. And then one man loudly said, “Well, we are here to push.”

Much of the crowd burst into laughter and it seemed that many of those assembled would have cheered if the board had voted to sue Jones for defying supervisors and the public by refusing to accept any kind of oversight or accountability that he couldn’t control.

Yes, Jones is an elected official in his own right. But the five supervisors sitting on the dais on Tuesday are also elected and it is they who allocate funds for Jones’ personnel, equipment and facilities. That gives them rights as well. There is language in the county charter that says county officials can’t simply go rogue as Jones has by locking an agent of supervisors – the IG – out of his buildings.

But there is no remedy in the county charter for what to do when a county official goes rogue, as Jones has.

That means this three-month standoff with Jones is ripe for a legal challenge that would have a court decide who is right and who is wrong. I’ve heard from legal experts such as Kevin Johnson, the UC Davis law dean, who thinks the supervisors would have a good case.

Truthfully, Jones has a lawsuit coming for thinking that he can just do what he wants, when he wants without consequences.

For the last three months, the largest government in Sacramento County has been twisted in knots over a question that is preposterous to even ask aloud: Should the sheriff be subject to very modest oversight?

I know. It’s crazy. It’s like something out of the deep south. It’s Scott Jones as Boss Hogg of Sacramento.

It is – as some speakers said on Tuesday – “embarrassing” that such a question is even being debated in Sacramento.

Are supervisors keeping Jones from doing his job? No. Was Braziel doing anything to impede Jones or his officers? No.

Braziel was doing the IG job as it was intended: He reviewed all the evidence in the McIntyre case. He focused on the tactics of deputies who fired 28 shots at McIntyre as he ran away from them. He found that McIntyre had run a sufficient distance from officers for them to transition from a deadly encounter to one where they could have used their superior numbers and McIntyre’s lack of a weapon to surround him and arrest him without killing him.

Braziel made numerous recommendations in his report geared toward teaching officers to de-escalate certain situations the next time they drew guns on a suspect. Braziel wasn’t condemning the officers in the McIntyre case. He drew no legal conclusions for what they did, though Jones and some of his cronies continue to insist that Braziel did. Braziel was trying to help the officers to expand their perspective and possibly resolve a future confrontation peacefully.

Why would Jones or anyone else object to this?

But Jones and some of his supporters do object. Since October, Jones has filled his Facebook page with deceitful posts meant to stir his base under false pretenses. Some speakers supporting Jones on Tuesday even adopted his language. They said Braziel “stepped out of his lane.” They said Braziel was “political.” He was “out of order.”

The substance of what Braziel has actually said was never mentioned. And it wasn’t until very late in this very long meeting that Supervisor Patrick Kennedy said that the characterizations of Braziel by Jones and his crowd were “100 percent false.”

Interestingly enough, all of the folks who spoke on Jones’ behalf on Tuesday were older and white. Many of them kept repeating the same mantra: Don’t question Jones. If you do, it shows that you hate law enforcement.

The most egregious speaker of all was Mindi Russell, a career law enforcement chaplain who disparaged the concerns of those gathered on Tuesday who opposed Jones’ tactics. In concluding her remarks, Russell turned to the gallery and quoted an old Jack Nicholson line: “You can’t handle the truth!”

Yes, this came from a chaplain. It was disgraceful and Jones smirked as Russell walked away from the podium.

In contrast, those who spoke against Jones’ tactics were African Americans, Latinos, Asians and white. There were representatives from the Muslim community and the Jewish community. There were professionals and retired people, lawyers and lay people, all of whom sacrificed most of Tuesday afternoon to speak at a meeting that lasted about five hours.

Before Tuesday, I really believe Jones underestimated those opposed to him.

Jones has kidded himself into the thinking that he enjoys the support of a “silent majority” of Sacramento County residents when, in truth, Jones barely squeaked by for re-election to his third term in office in June. With three marginal candidates canceling each other out, Jones barely got 51 percent of the vote in the June primary. His vote haul was 145,740 votes in an election where 42 percent of county registered voters cast ballots and where 1.5 million people live.

That ain’t no landslide. That’s the opposite of a landslide. But even if it had been a landslide, the suggestion by Jones and others that he should have no oversight is ludicrous.

Make no mistake: What happened Tuesday is not the end of the story. Supervisors voted to accept Kennedy’s suggestion to toughen the language of the IG job. Supervisor Phil Serna moved to work with Kennedy to draft a “memorandum of understanding” that presumably would keep Jones from interfering with an IG again.

But what if Jones objects? What if he stalls? What if refuses to cooperate?

Then it would be time to sue the Sheriff. Then that community that rose up against Jones on Tuesday might be tempted to take a step of their own against the Sheriff.

What step? One word: Recall.

The Bee's Anita Chabria sat down with Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones two weeks after he locked out the department's inspector general to discuss oversight, accountability and the shooting of Mikel McIntyre. Sacramento County District Attorney

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