Editorials

The costly bro culture of Sheriff Scott Jones

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, who is running for Congress, blames the media and political opponents for charges that his department doesn’t treat women well.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, who is running for Congress, blames the media and political opponents for charges that his department doesn’t treat women well. The Associated Press

It’s bad enough that the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department was found to have retaliated, good-old-boy-style, against women who complained about discrimination. And bad enough that taxpayers are on the hook for the $3.6 million penance.

But a lawsuit lost by the county in May seems to be a bottomless pit of dispiriting revelations. Now, from the voluminous court record, come allegations of sexual improprieties involving the sheriff himself.

As reported last week by The Sacramento Bee’s Christopher Cadelago, a female deputy deposed as part of the suit, Tosca Olives, said Sheriff Scott Jones had made her life miserable in 2003 when she was 26 and he was a sergeant. Over two years, she said under oath, he abused his position as her informal supervisor to grope, kiss and make other unwelcome sexual advances.

The sheriff, in a sworn statement, said the young deputy had been the aggressor, ambushing him with a kiss once and later removing her jacket and rubbing herself provocatively under her T-shirt during a period when he was mentoring her as she studied for law school.

His response, he said, was to tell her to stop and then avoid contact with her until 2008, when he reached out via email. The court record shows she emailed him back, calling him “toxic” and telling him to leave her alone.

What kind of workplace produces even Jones’ version of this story? Where would any worker get the idea that any of these scenarios would remotely be an option?

Jones, a married father of four, is challenging U.S. Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, for Congress. The woman was not among the four female deputies who filed the multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the department.

Jones on Friday “categorically, unequivocally, and emphatically” denied any improper behavior. Olives has declined to comment; in her deposition, she said she never formally complained because she was young and feared retaliation, and the statute of limitations had expired by the time she realized rules had been broken.

“Because I was young I felt embarrassed, or like I had brought it on myself and that I needed to engage in that activity because that was what was expected of me,” she said, according to the court record. “I felt like because he was my supervisor that he was more in control and in charge of the situation than I was.”

Sad stuff. And he-said-she-said. But also damning, as a reflection of the department culture. What kind of workplace produces even Jones’ version of this story? Where would any worker get the idea that any of these scenarios would remotely be an option?

Think of your own employer. How many entry-level, 26-year-old employees there believe that sexually kissing supervisors is something people do at the office? In what universe would your female co-worker ever throw off a suit jacket and sexually touch herself for her manager’s edification?

Now think of how most workplaces would react to such conduct, again, imagining Jones’ account is the true one. The manager would run, not walk, to the human resources department. The employee would be written up and sent off for counseling, if not suspension.

Yet nothing of the sort happened to the woman; she was still with the department when she was subpoenaed and deposed by the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Of course, the tale is even more damning if Olives’ version is true.

Jones didn’t become sheriff until 2010, but he came up through the ranks. He’s a product of the culture. After the department lost the retaliation case and he came in for criticism, he sent out a memo saying his political opponents and the media were trying to “drag down the outstanding reputation of the Sheriff’s Department just to color me as disreputable.”

The department’s frat-house, bully-boy reputation didn’t come from the media or Ami Bera or anyone else who has doubts about how Jones would lead if elected to higher office. It has been decades in the making.

Whatever did or didn’t happen between Jones and the deputy from the court files, with every lawsuit and every “boys will be boys” revelation, that culture costs the rest of us just a little bit more.

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