The other ones
Blowing up the rumor mill in the race for Sacramento County’s most popular elected office
There’s no shortage of squires fantasizing about taking a run at the king. Here, we examine the field of would-be challengers to Sheriff Scott Jones’ reign and sift through the political gossip surrounding one of the most influential elected offices in Sacramento County—and California.
The Earnest First-Timer
Retired sheriff’s Sgt. Donna Cox spent six years of her two-decade career leading the department’s K9 unit, but says it was the dogs on two legs who chased her and other female employees into early retirement. Now, the 49-year-old mother of two has crossed the thin bro line to confront what she says is a command structure that harasses whistle-blowers and rewards bullies.
“I know it’s true; I witnessed the stuff,” she says. “How are the ‘Me Too’ people not here?”
The only woman in the race, Cox says she’s been “dumbfounded” at how quickly the political establishment has fallen in line behind Jones, considering he presided over the department’s nearly $7 million gender discrimination payout in the spring of 2016. Cox says she was on the plaintiffs’ witness list for that trial, but wasn’t called to testify. Nevertheless, she says, her willingness to corroborate female employees’ stories of harassment blackballed her from further promotions. She left the department in August 2016. “I retired because of this,” she says. “I just had to get out of there.”
A first-time candidate, Cox admits she’s still learning the game, but says she has a set of life experiences that would make her a different kind of sheriff. She’s survived domestic violence, received government assistance while attending the academy and says she faced retaliatory internal affairs investigations for speaking up about the good old boys culture.
“I’ve been through a lot,” she says. “I’ve been a victim of a crime and a victim of law enforcement.”
While she recently nabbed the endorsement of Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly, Cox knows she’s the dark horse in this race.
“If I lose, I lose,” she says. “But at least I can look in the mirror and say I tried.”
The Repeat Offender
Citrus Heights Councilman Bret Daniels is making his fifth (fifth!) run at sheriff. An outspoken critic of department brass even when he was wearing a deputy’s uniform, Daniels was fired in 2000 following an internal affairs investigation into whether he abused his authority in tracking down an Arizona woman. Daniels has maintained his termination was political payback for daring to run against then-Sheriff Lou Blanas, saying he simply asked an Arizona cop to look up a friend, but ended up getting the info from the friend’s mother. Anyway, Daniels is now taking aim at the third benefactor of the Blanas-John McGinness-Jones patronage line. “He’s a totally flawed sheriff at this time,” Daniels asserts. “The lawsuits have been one after the other.”
A perennial fringe candidate, Daniels portrays himself as the choice for voters who consider Jones too much of a RINO on two of his most controversial platforms: Daniels wants to make it cheaper and easier to obtain concealed firearm permits and help the federal government deport undocumented immigrants who “prey” on innocent people.
Does Daniels stand a chance? He admits he’s never been a prolific fundraiser: The latest financial disclosures show he’s got about $1,200 in campaign cash—and $2,500 in outstanding debts. He’s actually gotten more votes each time he’s run for sheriff, but still lost by a considerable margin in 2010, his last run.
“It’s been a process,” Daniels says. “We’ve done better and better. I’ve very, very confident that we’ll get it done this time.”
They’re out (for now)
The Backup Plan
Chief Deputy Kris Palmer: It once looked like Undersheriff Eric Maness was being groomed to follow Jones into office. But a workplace retaliation lawsuit in which Maness was a starring defendant blew that succession plan out of the water. Enter the clean-cut Palmer, who became Jones’ second-choice heir apparent after a recent promotion. The money and endorsements started flowing in—and then Palmer unexpectedly pulled out. Rumors swirled that Palmer got wind Assemblyman Jim Cooper was coming for him and knew he’d lose. The running theory is that Jones reentered the race to keep Cooper from messing up his plans, and will set Palmer up to be appointed sheriff in a couple of years.
“No, that’s not the case,” Palmer says with a chuckle. “That’s too funny.”
Palmer says the reason he dropped out really did come down to the boring cliché—family. He says he has an aging parent who needs more personal care, so he decided to stick with the job he has, where he manages the department’s security contracts with the Sacramento Superior Court, Folsom Dam and Elk Grove Unified School District. Palmer says he hasn’t ruled out taking another run at being sheriff one day, but he’s in no rush.
“I love my job. I love my profession. I love the men and women I work with and work around,” he says.
The Grass-Is-Greener guy
Deputy Chief Ken Bernard: The Sacramento Police Department deputy chief filed placeholder paperwork back in December indicating he was considering a run. (The title, “Ken Bernard for Sheriff 2018,” tipped us off.) But a few weeks after Jones’ about-face announcement, Bernard told SN&R in an email that he was “no longer considering running.” The Police Department veteran was one of 33 people to vie for his agency’s top job after Chief Sam Somers Jr. retired in the middle of the Joseph Mann shooting controversy. But Bernard, who has been with the department more than a quarter-century, was passed over when city officials tapped Rosevile Police Chief Darryl Hahn to steer a department in transition.
Assemblyman Jim Cooper: Since losing to Jones in 2010 by a measly 3,660 votes, multiple sources say the former sheriff’s captain has been itching for another shot. Word is he’s the one who scared Palmer out of the race by hinting he was thinking of coming for Jones’ little-known establishment pick. It’s not that Cooper hasn’t done well for himself. Four years after losing by 1 percent to his arch-nemesis Jones, Cooper was elected to the state Assembly, where he represents a Sac County-heavy district. But the moderate Dem, who faces an easy reelection bid in California’s Assembly District 9, is widely believed to be pining for the election that got away. Like Jones, Cooper was accused of misconduct by a female Sheriff’s Department employee back in the day. Cooper’s people didn’t make him available for comment. Jones says Cooper told him directly he wouldn’t run this time. Let’s see how long that holds true.
The Boy Scout
Inspector General Rick Braziel is the most intriguing potential candidate not named Milo Fitch. The chief of police in Sacramento from 2008 to 2012, Braziel literally wrote the book on community policing. Its title? Cop Talk: Essential Communication Skills for Community Policing. Brainy and affable, Braziel commanded the police force at the height of the Great Recession, when staffing and crime both dropped sharply. Go figure. After retiring, Braziel joined the Police Foundation, a sort of think-tanky research body where he was tasked with parachuting into some of the highest-profile law enforcement incidents in modern times: the riots in Ferguson; the mass shooting in San Bernardino County; the accidental police shooting of a hostage/human shield following a Stockton bank robbery; and the 2013 manhunt for fired LAPD officer Christopher Dormer, who declared war on his former employer and killed four people in a rampage that ended with his death at a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains.
After cranking out a series of white papers about what could be learned from each crisis, Braziel agreed to become Sacramento County’s inspector general, the only independent monitor of the Sheriff’s Department. Since filling the long-vacant seat more than two years ago, he’s been a prolific author of reports and recommendations that the sheriff has resisted, such as adopting body-worn cameras for his officers and tracking all uses of force by officers, not just shootings and in-custody deaths. Like Fitch, Braziel is a data nerd who supports transparency and thinks of law enforcement in customer-service terms. Braziel weighed a campaign for sheriff—he even mentioned the idea to Jones.
“He knew I was considering it because I talked to him about it,” Braziel says. Then Jones abruptly reentered the race and Braziel, an astute student of probability, decided the odds weren’t in his favor. Too bad.
Maybe some day
UC Davis Police Chief Joseph A. Farrow: The first Japanese-American commissioner appointed to the California Highway Patrol just got himself a cushy new job in academia, so it’s unlikely he’s mulling a run. But there is a precedent for a CHP commish becoming Sacramento County sheriff: Glen Craig was elected to the first of his three terms in 1986, a few years after leaving the Highway Patrol. The well-respected Farrow could do the same if he avoids controversy in his current post—which isn’t a given considering UC Davis is where the notorious pepper-spray incident occurred, and that Farrow ran the CHP during its botched handling of the 2016 Capitol melee, in which white supremacists were allowed to openly brawl with antifa demonstrators in full view of Farrow’s officers. One of Farrow’s first public actions in his new post cut a sharp contrast to Jones: He and the chancellor issued a letter declaring the university would block Trump’s deportation force from coming onto campus to hunt non-criminal immigrants.
The Almost Sheriff
Retired U.S. Marshal Albert Najera: The police chief in Sacramento from 2003 to the beginning of 2008, Najera pursued a community-policing model at the department and reformed its hiring process to get more women and people of color on the force. He famously accepted a pension-cushioning salary hike on his way out of police HQ, bad timing since the recession was on its way in. Najera considered running for sheriff in 2010, but instead accepted an Obama-era appointment to serve as the U.S. Marshal of California’s Eastern District. After chasing fugitives across three-quarters of the state for eight years, Najera recently stepped down and is now doing some consulting work, say friends. So, might the Wilton resident consider a real run at being sheriff? “Nah,” says Charles “Chuck” Pattillo, general manager of the California Prison Industry Authority, who almost helped with Najera’s 2010 campaign. “He had a great run at the Marshals Office and I think his thing is, why would he want to get back into that? Because there’s a lot of stuff going on with Sac County, as you know. It’s a hard job.”
Former Councilman Darrell Fong: There’ve been whispers that the onetime police captain isn’t done with the law, mostly coming from Fong himself. Back when he was on the Sacramento City Council, Fong was fond of reminding everyone that he used to be on the job. He was so fond of it, in fact, that SN&R staffers covering City Hall considered basing a drinking game on Fong’s propensity for non-sequitur mentions that he used to be a cop. But no one wanted to get alcohol poisoning, so the idea was quickly shelved.