Marcos Bretón

The high cost of cleaning the Sheriff’s Department’s dirty laundry

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones has been angry at a host of people since his department lost a workplace retaliation lawsuit in May – one that could cost Sacramento taxpayers $3.57 million or more.

“For the first time I am not viewed as the sheriff of an outstanding law enforcement agency with broad public support, but rather a Republican running for national office,” Jones, a congressional candidate, wrote in a memo obtained by The Bee. “As I anticipated, that has resulted in personal attacks from a variety of sources – including the media – in an attempt to affect that race.”

Not only are Jones’ words, written after the county lost the case, an obfuscation, they are indicative of an insular culture of arrogance within the leadership ranks of his department. More about that in a moment, but it should be stated that Jones has a right to be angry.

His race against Ami Bera, an Elk Grove Democrat, has been compromised by a negative trial against his department in which Jones isn’t even a named defendant.

The key details of the case brought by four female deputies – who say they were retaliated against by department leaders when they challenged internal policies and politics – mostly involve Jones tangentially.

The heart of this trial, in which a jury ruled against the Sheriff’s Department by awarding the deputies more than $3.57 million in damages, is about transgressions attributed to colleagues of Jones. The majority of the events at issue occurred before Jones was elected sheriff in 2010.

With whom should Jones be angry? He could start with his Undersheriff Erik Maness, who was accused of maintaining an inappropriate relationship with a female deputy named Kristyn Beezley. That relationship led three of the four female deputies to sue the department. Why? Because when those deputies complained that Maness was giving preferential treatment to Beezley, they alleged that Maness retaliated against them.

A Sacramento County jury believed the deputies. They awarded them the $3.57 million in damages. They did not believe Maness, Beezley, Jones and other department leaders who testified, including former Sheriff John McGinness.

When attorneys for the county asked for a retrial, they were rejected by Superior County Judge David De Alba on Monday.

“Here, the court finds that there was at least substantial evidence for (plaintiffs) to reasonably believe that a sexual or romantic relationship existed between Beezley and Maness,” De Alba wrote in his ruling. “… Evidence at trial established that Beezley and Maness frequently went shopping and to lunch together, that they had overt physical contact that (plaintiffs) believed was inappropriate and suspicious. Testimonial evidence further established multiple instances in which Beezley was protected or exempted from discipline, reprimand, training requirements, transfers and performance evaluations.”

Maness and Beezley denied under oath that they had a relationship. Tony Turnbull, sheriff’s spokesman, said on Tuesday that Beezley “would not be available” for an interview. Jones has declined to discuss the issue beyond a press conference he gave after a jury ruled against his department.

According to the court records, Lt. Dawn Douglas, Sgt. Tracie Keillor and Deputy Jodi Mendonca said that Beezley was a problem, was insubordinate, but that Maness protected her and retaliated against them for reporting what they believed to be preferential treatment.

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

For Douglas, Keillor and Mendonca, the records show, the problem began in June 2006, when Maness was a captain in charge of the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, a county jail. Beezley worked there and Douglas and Keillor were her superior officers. Mendonca worked there as well.

They all claimed to the jury that Beezley and Maness were constantly together and that Beezley refused to follow orders. Douglas and Keillor said they complained to then-Captain Jones and were told to leave Beezley alone. Jones denied this.

Douglas and Keillor said they tried to cite the deputy’s shortcomings in a performance evaluation but were prevented from doing so by Maness. Douglas, Keillor and Mendonca said that, over time, Maness retaliated against them after they formally complained about the deputy. They said they were removed from jobs they enjoyed. Keillor said she became the focus of an Internal Affairs investigation for an alleged computer crime.

Nancy Sheehan, a lawyer representing Sacramento County, said that Maness couldn’t have carried out a vendetta against the three deputies because Maness didn’t know who had complained about the relationship.

Again, the jury saw otherwise and understanding why isn’t hard. Court testimony clearly shows that Maness’ relationship with Beezley was egregious and inappropriate.

An internal affairs official testified that the two would text each other 50 times a month and call each other 100 times a month. Those would include weekend calls and calls late at night.

Beezley and Maness met while working together at the main jail. Soon after he transferred to the Rio Cosumnes facility, and she shortly followed. When he was working out of sheriff’s division on Garfield Avenue, she would often visit him – though it was far out of her way.

She would work out of his office, though they were assigned to different divisions, court documents stated. He would approve of her overtime pay in patrol, though she wasn’t trained for patrol and he wasn’t her direct supervisor.

When the Sheriff’s Department began investigating complaints of an inappropriate relationship, Maness said he was told by a superior that the case was frivolous. Maness testified that the evidence from the case was destroyed.

Whether there was a sexual relationship seems immaterial. Someone needed to tell Maness that he couldn’t behave this way as a captain. Someone needed to settle this case years ago. The Sheriff’s Department seemed incapable of policing itself.

Keillor suffered a stroke, which she says was caused by the stress of her dispute with the department. Department officials dispute this. The jury sided with Keillor.

The jury awarded $3.2 million of the $3.57 million in damages to Keillor. She has a workers’ compensation case pending. If she is awarded damages in the workers’ compensation case, they could be subtracted from the current judgment.

It’s now up to the county Board of Supervisors to decide if they will keep fighting or pay the $3.57 million.

Last week, The Bee reported that the court documents filed on behalf of the four deputies revealed Jones had been accused of making unwanted advances against another female deputy not involved in the trial. Though the deputy, named Tosca Olives, did not testify in the trial of the deputies challenging their department, Olives’ 2014 deposition was included in documents supporting the plaintiffs’ case.

Jones has “categorically, unequivocally and emphatically” denied any improper behavior. He has said she was the aggressor.

In the end, this case clearly underscores how this department is in need of genuine civilian oversight, and that “the term ‘oversight’ needs to be real,” said county Supervisor Patrick Kennedy. “We have a citizens oversight committee that answers to the sheriff and that’s a clear conflict of interest.”

Kennedy said he intends to introduce a proposal to create a citizens oversight committee that would not report directly to Jones. “They would work as an arm of the Board of Supervisors and the community,” Kennedy said.

“This isn’t about Scott Jones,” he said. “But there is a lot of mistrust in the community. We need to address that.”

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