Reviving the watchdog

New inspector general contract adds an implied threat for Sacramento sheriff: Block oversight and risk attorney general investigation

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the June 27, 2019 issue.

Without a new paradigm for use-of-force investigations, Sacramento County is revisiting an abandoned one.

Supervisor Patrick Kennedy told SN&R the county should have a new inspector general to monitor the Sheriff’s Department by the end of this month, some 10 months after Sheriff Scott Jones banished then-I.G. Rick Braziel.

Jones took umbrage last summer with a report Braziel released criticizing the October 2016 shooting death of Mikel McIntyre, a mentally ill black man who struck a deputy with a rock and was running across freeway lanes when deputies unleashed dozens of rounds at his back. The three-term sheriff claimed without evidence that Braziel, Sacramento’s former police chief, had politicized his role as inspector general and told supervisors the only oversight he would tolerate was from the voters.

But the unilateral ouster opened a can of worms county leaders are trying to reseal: If the sheriff can literally lock out someone whose job it is to supervise his agency, is the inspector general’s contract worth the paper it’s printed on?

In mid-April, the county requested proposals for Braziel’s replacement, with a new scope of services drafted by Kennedy, whose district includes South Sacramento. Kennedy didn’t write in new powers for the inspector general, but did formalize his board’s ability to tie-break disputes.

Critically, the sheriff and all fellow department heads would be required to cooperate with the I.G., meaning they would have to provide access to county facilities and requested documents, including confidential personnel files and inmate records. This would presumably block the sheriff from changing the locks on a future I.G. as he did with Braziel.

A sheriff’s spokeswoman said Jones only saw the RFP this month. “It was developed and put out without his input or review,” Sgt. Tess Deterding wrote in an email.

The I.G. will also still be expected to monitor civilian complaints and track and make procedural recommendations regarding high-profile cases, including all officer-involved shootings where a subject is struck, significant use-of-force incidents and in-custody deaths. But the I.G. lacks the authority to investigate personnel matters, can’t release reports without notifying the county’s public relations team and can only “advise” the sheriff to adopt an early warning system to flag problems before they arise. (For what it’s worth, Jones proposed replacing Braziel with a loyalist in a stripped-down capacity back in December.)

Kennedy enshrined one other recourse in the contract—that the Board of Supervisors, through a majority vote, could ask the state attorney general to investigate use-of-force incidents or in-custody deaths.

Whether California A.G. Xavier Becerra would do anything different than his locally elected counterparts is another matter. If the city of Vallejo is any indication—where three social advocacy groups are pleading with Becerra to investigate a series of police killings and alleged civil rights violations—the answer may be no.