Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones has repeatedly dishonored and disrespected the office the people of Sacramento County elected him to uphold. He has violated professional norms, abused his power, brazenly lied and bucked the authority of Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.
The good news is that Jones says he won’t run again for Sacramento sheriff. The bad news is that we still have three and a half years left of his third term. That’s why the Board of Supervisors must urgently adopt the Sacramento County Grand Jury’s call for increased oversight of the sheriff’s office.
The grand jury was convened after Jones locked Inspector General Rick Braziel out of his office and refused to cooperate with his investigation into whether sheriff’s deputies acted appropriately when they killed a man named Mikael McIntyre.
McIntyre, a 32-year-old man experiencing a mental health crisis, was shot to death on Highway 50 in Rancho Cordova. Deputies fired 27 shots at McIntyre in less than one minute because they said he threw rocks at them. McIntyre’s family and their attorney believe it was a case of excessive and unnecessary deadly force.
The Board of Supervisors picked Braziel, a respected law enforcement officer with a long history in Sacramento, to serve as inspector general of the sheriff’s department. But after Braziel issued a report critical of deputies’ actions in killing McIntyre, Jones singlehandedly decided to terminate the inspector general and lock him out of the department altogether.
Jones’ tantrum illustrated the fact that the current system of governance over the sheriff’s office doesn’t work if the person holding the office has no respect for rules or authority. That’s why the Board of Supervisors must take action, by whatever means possible, to create more transparency and public accountability around the office of the sheriff.
“Sacramento County-based oversight of the district attorney and sheriff is inadequate given the potential impact their policies and action could have on the communities they serve,” the grand jury’s report read. “The Board of Supervisors should initiate action to create a Sacramento County oversight commission with responsibilities pertaining to the district attorney and sheriff.”
The grand jury called on county supervisors to put a new oversight commission in place by the end of this year, according to a story by Sacramento Bee reporters Hannah Wiley and Adam Ashton. The grand jury recommended that the new oversight board should also have the power to investigate the county’s district attorney.
Though its current power over the sheriff may have some limitations, the Board of Supervisors has every reason to act with urgency and highlight these issues publicly. Recent developments suggest Jones will only get worse as he phases out of Sacramento.
An investigation by Bee reporters Ryan Sabalow and Molly Sullivan found that, during the filming of “Jailbirds,” “deputies watched fights break out, allowed inmates to incriminate themselves without their attorneys present and demanded editorial control of the reality series, even as the show’s producers amped up the drama in the name of entertainment.”
In essence, Sheriff Jones allowed the county jail to be turned into a carnival atmosphere of lawlessness and civil rights violations for the sake of entertainment. According to the Bee:
“One inmate said a scene in the show was staged for dramatic effect. Another said producers told her she would not get punished for violations caught on camera. Yet another said a fight scene was ‘damn near staged’ … Attorneys at the Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office, which represented several of the inmates on the show, said they weren’t notified that the producers were filming. The attorneys were alarmed because it could jeopardize their clients’ cases, raising fundamental questions about fairness to the inmates who had not yet been convicted.”
Jones office also lied about whether it had accepted money from the TV show’s producers. The Bee discovered that the show’s producers paid his department $42,211 to cover overtime costs for officers who appear in the show. The sheriff’s department had previously denied that any money had changed hands, and both Jones’ office, the show’s producers and Netflix have refused to answer further questions from The Bee.
In a perfect world, California’s sheriffs would be appointed rather than elected, and subject to powerful and direct oversight by county officials. Perhaps the California State Legislature will act someday to enact such necessary reform. In the meantime, state legislators can advance Assembly Bill 1185, by Sacramento Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, which would create citizens oversight boards for sheriffs in each of California’s 58 counties.