Man of the censure

Called out for creeping, embattled Citrus Heights councilman says colleagues can ‘kiss my ass’

Bret Daniels in campaign mode.

Bret Daniels in campaign mode.

Photo courtesy of Bret Daniels for Sheriff 2018 Facebook page

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the June 14, 2018, issue.

Last fall, Citrus Heights Police Chief Ron Lawrence summoned his officer to discuss a harassment allegation involving a sitting politician. It wasn’t the first time the department was forced to review the behavior of Bret Daniels. The Citrus Heights politician and frequent sheriff’s candidate had already been the subject of multiple claims that he made women uncomfortable.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department fired Daniels in 2001 after the then-deputy used his position to access confidential information about a woman in Arizona. Citrus Heights police investigated a separate complaint in 2008 that Daniels had been harassing an old high school flame for decades. Nine years later, the object of his unwanted attention complained to Roseville police that Daniels was at it again, sending her an unsolicited email after he was told to leave her alone.

It’s this controversy that has stirred up big drama in the small city. On June 7, the Citrus Heights City Council took the unusual step of publicly censuring one of its members for conduct deemed “unacceptable” and “indicative of a pattern of behavior,” a staff report from the city attorney’s office reads. The censure carries no binding consequence, though Vice Mayor Jeannie Bruins took the special meeting as an opportunity to call for Daniels’ resignation. Daniels called Bruins’ comments “out of line” and says he isn’t going anywhere.

“You know what, you can print this. I don’t care. They can kiss my ass,” Daniels said of his council colleagues. “I’ve got no love for them and I guess they have none for me.”

According to semi-redacted police reports obtained by SN&R, Daniels met with Chief Lawrence shortly after he sent an August 29, 2017, email to his high school ex. The woman responded by saying she would report the incident to police. Daniels says the woman communicated that to his wife in a typo-laden Facebook message, prompting him to request a sit-down with the police chief.

After discussing other matters, Daniels asked Lawrence if the department was investigating him. Lawrence said it would be inappropriate to discuss any ongoing investigation and the meeting soon ended, the police report states.

In September 2017, Lawrence called Lt. Alex Turcotte to his office and briefed the SWAT team commander on his conversation with Daniels. Lawrence was concerned that the woman “may be a victim of harassment by a public official,” Turcotte wrote in his report. The chief asked Turcotte to contact the woman and determine if a crime had occurred.

On September 6, 2017, Turcotte reached the woman by phone and learned that she and Daniels dated almost 40 years ago in high school. The woman, the lieutenant wrote, “has repeatedly told him not to contact her and finds his persistence ’creepy.’ She is aware of other women, who formerly dated Mr. Daniels, that have also had similar experiences.”

Daniels says none of this is true.

“Never one time, I swear to God, never one time have I received anything from her that said ’please don’t contact me,’ anything like that,” Daniels said. “I’m not trying to minimize her feelings because I don’t really know her feelings. And if it did cause distress to her, I’m incredibly sorry. This is someone who was very important to me once upon a time. And if I caused her pain, that’s something that tears at my heart.”

In a five-page statement, Daniels wrote that he and the woman, whom he identifies as “Mary,” mutually ended their engagement in 1980 after dating for four years. Daniels joined the U.S. Air Force and Mary went off to college, he wrote. Daniels says he and Mary would occasionally cross paths whenever he returned to the Sacramento area, and that their visits were innocuous. After Daniels moved back to the area in 1987, he says he saw Mary infrequently at high school reunions and when he visited her parents.

But the woman, her husband and a neighbor told Citrus Heights police in 2008 that Daniels was a frequent sight in their neighborhood as a patrol deputy, and claimed he asked “invasive” questions about his old flame.

Daniels says his wife at the time was responsible for choosing the house in Roseville that ended up being one mile away from Mary and her husband. In a phone interview, Daniels says he only lived in Roseville for one year.

Regarding the October 2008 incident that prompted the woman’s husband to call police, Daniels says he was canvassing neighborhoods for a Citrus Heights City Council run when he pulled into the court where the woman’s mother lived. Daniels says he saw a number of people standing outside what looked like a yard sale. With a flier in hand, Daniels says, he started up the driveway and was confronted by a man who threatened to have him arrested if he didn’t leave the property. The man was his ex’s husband, Daniels says, and accused Daniels of intruding in their lives and stalking his wife.

Daniels defended his visits to the neighborhood, as well as the email nine years later, which he described as an innocuous attempt to catch up. But he also provided a copy of an email to the woman that acknowledged he wrote her multiple times, always without hearing back. Until last year, when she responded that she was contacting the police.

Roseville police public information officer Rob Baquera confirmed to SN&R that officers responded to “a call for service” regarding Daniels’ email in August 2017.

“We determined from our end that it wasn’t a crime,” he said.

The DA’s office arrived at a similar conclusion.

This isn’t the first time Daniels’ interactions with women have gotten him in trouble. In 1995, Daniels lost an off-duty security gig at Sunrise Mall “for inappropriate behavior toward female employees,” the Sheriff’s Department stated in its termination letter. The department fired him in 2001 after investigating a complaint involving a different woman.

The version Daniels tells is that he asked a community college officer in Tucson to help him find a friend, didn’t get the information he requested, and instead learned of his friend’s whereabouts from her mother.

The department’s version of events is that he flashed his badge to get the campus cop to look up confidential DMV and address records about a woman he liked, then later lied about it to internal affairs investigators.

Daniels contends the I.A. investigation into him was a trumped-up effort to get him off the force for challenging the leadership. In 1998, Daniels said he “ran a very aggressive campaign” against then-Sheriff Lou Blanas. A year later, Daniels got himself elected to the newly incorporated Citrus Heights City Council, which didn’t yet have its own police force and so contracted those services through the Sheriff’s Department.

Despite still being a working deputy, Daniels was sharply critical of the arrangement and led the effort to dump his employer’s services. It was “a very bitter fight,” Daniels told SN&R in February. A month later, he says, he was suspended from duty.

According to Daniels’ termination letter, which the council member provided to SN&R, the Sheriff’s Department noted that Daniels had faced disciplinary action on three occasions prior to the incident in Tuscon. Along with losing the Sunrise Mall job for his behavior around female employees, Daniels was suspended from duty for 30 days in 1998 “for striking a handcuffed juvenile in the back of the head without justification therefore,” the letter reads.

Daniels appealed his termination, which the county’s Civil Service Commission later upheld, though the commission noted that Daniels was inappropriately denied access to his union rep during the I.A. interviews.

Preliminary election results show Daniels will likely lose his fifth bid to be elected sheriff of Sacramento County.The ex-deputy ran a campaign based, in part, on his position that incumbent Sheriff Scott Jones presides over a department where female employees faced harassment and discrimination, culminating in one of the largest courtroom payouts in the department’s history. But Daniels’ critics say he is no friend of the Me Too movement, and that his inability to take no for an answer makes him unfit for public office.

In a staff report dated June 7, Citrus Heights City Attorney Ruthann G. Ziegler wrote that Councilman Daniels’ “pattern of behavior and alleged conduct is not in accordance with the City of Citrus Heights’ core values and principles.” Ziegler’s report explains that the rest of the Citrus Heights City Council only recently learned of the complaints against Daniels, partly due to a May 11, 2018, public records request.

“While the District Attorney’s Office and the Citrus Heights Police Department may encounter behavior that does not rise to the level of criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt, Citrus Heights elected officials choose to hold themselves to a higher standard,” Ziegler wrote.

Reached by phone, Ziegler said the censure was simply a way for the majority of the council to publicly announce its position, not a pathway to remove someone from office.

“It’s basically a public shaming if you will,” Daniels added.

Rather than question his own future on the council, Daniels said he was looking forward to the fall, when three of his colleagues will be up for reelection, including Bruins.

“And November, we’ll hopefully replace one of them,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the November election.”