The sheriff has no clothes

In shutting down independent oversight of his department, Scott Jones has shown Sacramento County his true colors—again

When Sheriff Scott Jones appeared before the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on September 11 to reiterate he was no longer tolerating independent oversight of his agency, it was weird. It felt like being a kid at your friend’s house and seeing his parents argue in front of you. It was also a rare glimpse at what Jones must be like behind closed doors.

Often characterized as a mini-Donald Trump because of his anti-immigration-focused congressional run in 2016, the sheriff aped some of the president’s rhetorical flourishes in defending his unilateral ouster of Inspector General Rick Braziel, a respected former police chief who dared question the shooting of an unarmed black man who was running away from officers. Jones boasted about the margin of his electoral victory, groused about emails being leaked to the media and claimed sole credit for the creation of the inspector general’s office.

“The only reason we have an inspector general is because I wanted an inspector general,” he told supervisors last month.

Yeah, um, no. While it’s true Jones had an outsized role in selecting the person tasked with keeping him honest, the county only started looking for an I.G. in 2015, after SN&R revealed that the position had been replaced by a broken tip line—one that disconnected calls before anyone could leave a message.

Before our reporting, Jones and the county bragged that the hotline had received zero complaints about his department. After our reporting, they tried hard to spin the narrative.

That’s happening now, as supervisors cave to a sheriff and cut loose Braziel, by no means an anti-policing radical. The 30-year law enforcement veteran didn’t support legislative attempts to make it easier to prosecute officers in questionable use-of-force cases or to strip district attorneys of the power to investigate such incidents. But he is a big believer in gathering and sharing data—by making sure agencies track all use-of-force encounters (not just shootings and Tazer deployments, as the Sheriff’s Department does), requiring officers to wear body cameras (which the sheriff has resisted) and implement policies to share that footage with the public (which the sheriff says he won’t do).

Braziel believes these approaches can help law enforcement agencies defend themselves against baseless abuse claims and prevent costly trials when the department has erred and should settle, “rather than spending money on a loser,” Braziel said. “If we messed up, we messed up.”

Obviously Jones has no interest in such accountability. It’s why Braziel is out of a job. But even when he’s trying to keep the public out, Jones can’t help showing his true colors. After all, there are few things more transparent than the abuse of power.