Change of heart or political play: Sheriff Jones releases video but public needs to see policy

Sheriff Scott Jones on Monday said his department was adopting a policy of publicly releasing videos of in-custody deaths and officer-involved shootings.

On Tuesday, his office denied request from The Bee for video of the officer-involved shooting of Mikel McIntyre, who was killed when deputies fired 28 rounds at him after he hit two officers and a dog with rocks last year.

Jones announced the policy change the day before a high-profile public meeting in which the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors would discuss oversight of his office, which he has resisted. His office also released video showing the events preceding the Nov. 1 death of Marshall Miles, an unarmed 36-year-old black man who fell into a coma after an in-custody struggle with deputies.

The announcement signaled a shift toward transparency in Jones’s office, which we and the community have pushed for. But the timing, coupled with the fact that Jones released no written video policy, raised questions that the announcement might have been more political than genuine.

The office’s letter denying The Bee’s McIntyre video request cited exemptions to California’s public records law related to ongoing investigations and pending litigation. The Sacramento Police Department releases all video in similar cases within 30 days, ongoing investigation or no.

Jones, who holds a law degree, would know that without a written policy he can appear transparent without a binding commitment to release videos 100 percent of the time.

For months, Jones has been on something of a tirade against The Bee and some fellow elected officials who have questioned his handling of the ouster of Inspector General Rick Braziel. Braziel, to recap, was hired to present findings about the sheriff department’s handling of the McIntyre shooting.

On Facebook, Jones called for his supporters to attend Tuesday’s meeting, telling them there would be “PLENTY of deputies to keep everyone safe.”

From whom? The Black Lives Matter activists who Jones routinely targets with racial dog whistles? Citizens with a strong interest in not getting accidentally shot at? Bee columnist Marcos Breton’s dangerous keyboard?

We haven’t forgotten Jones’ September quip that, “We haven’t shot anybody on the freeway since,” when discussing what his department was doing to prevent future incidents like the McIntyre shooting.

Jones’ latest Facebook posts, which allege a conspiracy to take control of the Sheriff’s Department, are untethered from the facts.

Jones asserts The Bee questions his right to serve. We do not. We question his right to deny political and procedural oversight, a standard all other elected officials must meet. In the Braziel case, Jones was trying to derail an investigation into his department. We subject all elected officials and institutions to equal scrutiny. We also believe all Sacramento County citizens deserve equal protection and treatment from their sheriff.

If Jones is serious about rebuilding transparency and trust, he will follow yesterday’s announcement with the following steps:

Immediately release all video and audio footage of the Mikel McIntyre shooting.

Release written details of the new video release policy, including clear language delineating precisely what constitutes a critical incident, a reasonable timeline for the release of the video and a guarantee the footage will be unedited and released in full.

Request that the county supervisors fully fund body cameras for all patrol deputies and commit to officers being required to turn them on (or face consequences for not doing so) in 2019.

The Sacramento Bee has filed multiple Public Records Act requests for basic details on a number of incidents with the sheriff. It has become a tiresome routine for the sheriff’s department to deny the majority of them. Why?

Jones has only himself to blame for his actions and for flip comments unbecoming someone in his position.

As an elected official, Jones should fully commit to the basic tenets of accountability and transparency.

Editor’s note: this story has been updated to reflect new developments since its was originally published.