Viewpoints

Jones wants democracy without transparency. That’s not how it works

Sheriff Scott Jones prohibits Bee reporter from video-recording interview, then provides altered video

The Bee's Anita Chabria sat down with Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones two weeks after he locked out the department's inspector general to discuss oversight, accountability and the shooting of Mikel McIntyre.
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The Bee's Anita Chabria sat down with Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones two weeks after he locked out the department's inspector general to discuss oversight, accountability and the shooting of Mikel McIntyre.

No public official or institution in America is exempt from oversight and accountability — not even Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.

Jones has defied core constitutional principles with his efforts to undermine County Inspector General Rick Braziel, who provides a critical check on Jones’ power. His defense of his actions, published in a Sacramento Bee op-ed Nov. 6, wither under scrutiny.

Braziel released a report three months ago criticizing the sheriff’s deputies who shot and killed Mikel McIntyre, a mentally troubled African-American man, in May 2017. The fatal shooting was the third by deputies in Jones’ office in a two-year span. The report said the 28 bullets deputies fired at McIntyre were excessive and unnecessary, and recommended reforms to the office’s use-of-force policies.

In response, Jones locked Braziel out of all of his office’s facilities.

Jones claimed in his op-ed that “logic and law” are on his side, asserting the Board of Supervisors doesn’t have authority to subject him to oversight.

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“The law is very clear that an elected sheriff must conduct business free from outside influences,” he wrote.

Jones is wrong. Established law and bedrock principles of constitutional governance show meaningful oversight of the Sheriff’s Department is both lawful and necessary.

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California law specifically provides that a county board of supervisors “shall supervise the official conduct of all county officers” and “shall see that they faithfully perform their duties.” In other words, state law requires the oversight that the sheriff decries.

The law does prohibit “(obstructing) the investigative function of the sheriff.” But the OIG report does not obstruct the sheriff’s investigations.

Other major California jurisdictions have recognized the benefits of transparency and accountability and decided to go further than Sacramento to provide civilian oversight of their sheriffs. Los Angeles and San Diego Counties have citizen review boards that oversee their sheriff’s departments. The California Supreme Court upheld the power of charter counties, like Sacramento, to establish these bodies in 1994. Against this backdrop, it is puzzling that Jones is so offended by the OIG’s modest oversight.

Jones wants democracy without transparency. He claims the authority of the electorate but seeks to prevent the kind of oversight needed to allow voters to make fully informed decisions. Jones can say he’s accountable to voters, but the claim rings hollow when he tries to muzzle a source of information the public needs to evaluate him.

Jones himself recognized the wisdom of outside review in 2015 when the OIG was constituted. At the time, he stated, “We look forward to working with the inspector general to help us continue to bring oversight and accountability to the work of protecting public safety.”

While he may disagree with the findings in the inspector general’s report, he cannot credibly shift positions to suggest that now there is no room for oversight and accountability of his department.

When the Board of Supervisors meets on Dec. 4, the ACLU will be there, along with many local community organizations to demand Sacramento County strengthen civilian review of the Sheriff’s Department, not weaken it.

Written by Sean Riordan, ACLU of Northern California, Senior Staff Attorney.
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