On Tuesday afternoon, in response to a Grand Jury report, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors sent out a strong statement indicating that the Grand Jury investigation was “in response to a referral from the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors requested this review after having received numerous serious complaints and allegations from employees about the Yolo County Sheriff and the work environment in the Sheriff’s department.”
The release from the Yolo County Board of Supervisors said it “believes the report is not responsive to the concerns brought forward by county employees. Furthermore, the Board believes the grand jury’s findings, in many cases, are superfluous to the more serious allegations.”
However, the Vanguard learned on Wednesday that, while the statement from the Board of Supervisors was approved in closed session in concept by the entire board, only Chair Don Saylor and Vice Chair Matt Rexroad saw the final version of the statement before it went out, Beth Gabor, Yolo County Manager of Public Affairs who acts as the board’s spokesperson, told the Vanguard on Wednesday.
County Supervisor Jim Provenza told the Vanguard that he had concerns with the tone of the Board of Supervisors statement as written and he had neither seen the final version nor was sent a copy upon release. He stated that the wording “numerous serious complaints” was misleading, and he felt like there was really one serious complaint.
Moreover, in his view, much as Matt Rexroad indicated, it was unclear from the report whether a number of the statements made by the Grand Jury had been factually proven or whether these were simply allegations.
Despite his more pointed comments, Matt Rexroad on Tuesday afternoon expressed similar reservations as his colleague.
“This thing is written so poorly that I can’t tell whether …” he started. “There’s certainly enough in here for my mind that gives us every reason to go in and look at this operation very carefully.” However, he was concerned as to whether all of these statements by the Grand Jury were facts that they verified or whether these are just accusations.
Jim Provenza indicated on Wednesday that, rather than launch another new investigation, he would prefer the county to ask the Grand Jury to come back and back up their allegations with factual evidence so that the county can determine the nature of these complaints.
Matt Rexroad told the Vanguard on Tuesday, “The Grand Jury took it about halfway there, in my mind. It leaves a lot of questions that are unanswered and I think we have a responsibility to follow up on that.”
Sheriff Prieto issued an additional statement on Wednesday afternoon. He said, “We understand that members of the media have questions regarding yesterday’s release of the Grand Jury’s report. Please understand we just recently received the report ourselves and my staff and I are in the process of trying to understand the opinions and conclusions, based on grand jury’s interviews of less than 10% of our department members, and to determine what would be an appropriate response.”
He added, “As you know, we have 60 days to respond to the report but I assure you that we will make every effort to respond to it within that time frame or sooner.”
The Grand Jury in their report noted that they performed 25 interviews of 21 witnesses.
One of the Vanguard’s concerns here was the limited nature of the inquiry. Given that some of the details of complaints have been published in the Grand Jury’s report, attempts to go back and interview other witnesses for corroboration may be hampered and contaminated by releases.
For instance, Matt Rexroad was particularly concerned about a section on baseball metaphors that was buried in the section on poor morale. He said, “A felony arrest is a home run, so we have some sort of cultural incentive to jack up charges to arrest somebody for.”
But there are denials that this kind of language was ever used. One way to ascertain whether this is accurate would have been to broaden the inquiry, however, with the material released already, that inquiry may be tainted.
Supervisor Provenza acknowledged that, while this may be a problem, the report itself really lacked a lot of specifics.
The Vanguard’s efforts to reach Supervisor Oscar Villegas were unsuccessful on Wednesday.
The Board indicated in their release on Tuesday, “Along with those more significant matters of concern, the Board of Supervisors will also seek clarification to the Yolo County Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations concerning the Yolo County Sheriff.”
“’The Board of Supervisors has a strong commitment to ensuring a safe work environment and a culture of support for all employees of Yolo County, regardless of the department in which they work,’ said Yolo County Board of Supervisors Chair Don Saylor. ‘We are deeply concerned about the grand jury’s findings and the results of investigations previously initiated by the county.’
“Yolo County will respond completely to all findings and recommendations in the Yolo County Grand Jury report concerning the Yolo County Sheriff. The Board of Supervisors will also be formally requesting additional information from the grand jury.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting