Editorials

In the war over transparency, who’s really in charge? Sacramento supervisors or the sheriff?

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. lsterling@sacbee.com

When Sacramento County supervisors met Tuesday to discuss the future of their embattled contract employee, Inspector General Rick Braziel, the temptation to take the easy way out and give in to Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones was certainly there.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much what happened and it sets a horrible precedent.

The people of Sacramento County deserve more than to acquiesce to a bully who seems to want as little independent oversight of his department as possible. Supervisor Patrick Kennedy was right when he called the sheriff’s recent behavior a “temper tantrum” — and it is one that shouldn’t be rewarded.

Last month, Jones effectively ended what little outside scrutiny there was of his deputies.

Confronted with a report from Braziel that criticized the 2017 fatal shooting of Mikel McIntyre as unnecessary and an act that put innocent bystanders at risk along Highway 50, the sheriff revoked the inspector general’s access to his department’s personnel records and facilities.

Never mind that Braziel was just doing his job. Jones blasted the report as “misguided, destructive and dangerous,” even though what it actually did was raise legitimate questions about whether deputies need more de-escalation training.

The sheriff decided that he wanted Braziel gone, and on Tuesday, he seemed to get it. Supervisors told county staff to start searching for an interim inspector general. Braziel’s contract expires in November and it’s clear the sheriff plans to keep him locked out until then. That’s a win for Jones.

Supervisors failed their first real test of whether they would show some backbone to the sheriff.

Standing at the dais, Jones insisted, without evidence, that the former chief of the Sacramento Police Department had ulterior political motives in producing and releasing his report on McIntyre — motives that sound about as plausible as the latest Alex Jones conspiracy theory. And then, the sheriff defiantly told the board that they “have no authority to impose oversight” on him and that Braziel “is done,” so he’d rather focus on the process for hiring a new inspector general.

The response? Not quite crickets, but close.

Supervisors Phil Serna and Kennedy insisted they do indeed have authority to force Jones to accept some sort of oversight, referencing a section related to “elective officers” in the Sacramento County Charter. Supervisor Sue Frost disagreed and Supervisor Don Nottoli just wanted everyone to get along.

Going forward, supervisors must find a way to ensure there is proper oversight of the sheriff’s department — not by someone Jones believes he can control, but by someone like Braziel, a law enforcement expert who is unafraid to share his recommendations.

To do that, Serna on Tuesday reiterated his desire to implement other models, including a civilian review board. That could involve drafting a new ordinance or finding a catch under existing law that gives the Board of Supervisors some leverage to force the sheriff to accept independent oversight.

Supervisors also asked county staff to beef up the contractual duties of the next inspector general, so that he or she will have clearer marching orders on handing investigations, issuing reports and making recommendations. This is particularly important because Jones has been dismissive of changing any policies or requiring deputies to undergo more training as a result of the McIntyre shooting.

The people of Sacramento County deserve a sheriff’s department that is transparent and accountable. The sheriff shouldn’t get the last word on that.

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