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Board May Ask Grand Jury To Clarify Their Report on Sheriff Prieto

Prieto-SheriffOn 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

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About David Greenwald

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

14 comments

  1. I am also concerned by the focus on getting “home runs” and that employee reviews are based on how many Officers get. This reward system would encourage felony arrests when lesser charges may be more appropriate, and totally neglects responding to quality of life problems. It doesn’t work for a community policing model. I suspect that this game also includes goals for making home runs with officers being given daily or weekly targets. I don’t have to tell you the problems that can result from this.

    This system also has the potential to flood our Courts and require embellishment on the stand by officers giving testimony to back up jacked up charges. We criticize the DA’s Office for over charging cases, but maybe it starts with the Sheriff’s office.

    I am also very concerned by the lack of training by the Sheriff and deputies. While all other jurisdictions in Yolo County have attended training for responding to calls involving someone with mental health issues, the Sheriff’s Office has reported zero hours of training. This is inexcusable and negligent.

  2. Davis Progressive

    i remain unconvinced by teh grand jury’s report. i’m not defender of prieto, but this is a weak report in my opinion.

  3. In paragraph one, above, your concerns may be partially allayed by the following: A felony arrest differs from a felony charge. A peace officer may arrest for a felony as defined by the Penal Code, while the District Attorney can, and often does, charges the offense to misdemeanor, infraction, or renders a dismissal of the entire proceeding.

    Second, there has been no quantifiable information, no proof, and no evidence, offered to substantiate the contention that the type and quantity of arrests translates to rankings of performance review reports. Were you to ask the Grand Jury if they examined a sample of performance appraisals for validation purposes, the answer would be, no. All of the information received was hearsay from self-serving biased sources.

    For that matter, the Grand Jury gave no details on how it arrived at any of its “findings.” A more thorough explanation from the Grand Jury is surely warranted. But it won’t happen, and both the Board of Supervisors and the Grand Jury is going to end up looking very foolish, the GJ for its initial intemperate remarks and the Sups for their premature reactions. You see the supervisor’ pulling back already.

    • Phil, It is in the report. I believe this is a concern of the Board of Supervisors. I believe the practice of setting a goal of a certain number of citations (for traffic cops) or arrests is problematic. I have personal experience where an officer made a felony arrest, the DA’s Office choose to prosecute it unchanged and not only the defendant was found to be innocent, but the Judge immediately directed all records be expunged. I don’t know how many times this has happened in the County, but I suspect more than we realize. The Board of Supervisors, along with the DA, could take a look at this to see if the “game” being played in the Sheriff’s Office is generating over-charged or trumped up charges.

      • Please, exactly “what” is in the report?

        Quotas for traffic citations are illegal by statute in California. I don’t recall anywhere in the Grand Jury Report seeing any reference to quotas be set by the Sheriff for either citations or felony arrests. Is this a new assertion, a naked suspicion, or a proclaimed fact?

      • Clem Kadiddlehopper

        We have hundreds of state inmates flooding into our county jail under the prison realignment program. Although the crimes that landed them in state prison prior to their release were so-called non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual offenses, these inmates often have an earlier record of far more serious crimes. A whole bunch of these individuals have mental problems. Our jail is full to the brim. There is no more room. We have people that will be in the county jail for YEARS under this realignment program.
        I really don’t think any of our law enforcement officers or departments have the time or manpower to arrest and then house someone on trumped up charges.
        By reading between the lines, I feel the sheriff is trying to give his officers’ a strong pep talk. He is trying to encourage innovation and self-initiative and at the same time trying to target specific problems such as drugs, theft, drunk driving and the like. If using sports metaphors is his way of motivating his front line troops, I say do it. Or should I say, “whatever makes his putter flutter”.

        • Like your moniker, but your picture is too small to see clearly–is that an extinct California grizzly, resurrected and holding a gun to its head? Don’t shoot!

          Good to have a contributor who seems to be up on what is going on in the county jails; seems the future of this may be tricky with realignment!

        • David Greenwald

          “I really don’t think any of our law enforcement officers or departments have the time or manpower to arrest and then house someone on trumped up charges.”

          Have to disagree, we have covered hundreds of court cases over the last four years and some of the charges have been trumped up.

          • David wrote:

            > Have to disagree, we have covered hundreds of court
            > cases over the last four years and some of the charges
            > have been trumped up.

            Can you post a list of the cases where the law enforcement officers have been put in jail or disciplined for “trumping up charges”.

            I know this happens but I bet the percentage of cops “trumping up charges” is even lower than the number of teachers “molesting kids”.

          • David Greenwald

            I don’t think I can come up with any sort of list. For one thing, personnel and disccipline files are confidential. For another police are so rarely charged criminal even for murder while on duty.

            What I can do is site you some local cases that are fairly questionable involving sheriff’s deputies, Chief among them: http://www.davisvanguard.org/two-yolo-county-sheriffs-deputies-caught-lying-in-separate-traffic-stop-cases/comment-page-1/

  4. Davis Progressive

    The Bee’s editorial today:

    ” Inside a report with the title “Yolo County Sheriff: Leadership practices from the Wild, Wild West” one would reasonably expect to hear tales of brutality and lawlessness among the ranks of law enforcers. Or at least of outlaws shooting it out in, say, Woodland and Davis.

    But the grand jury report released this week didn’t deliver any smoking guns, let alone any evidence of a Dodge City-like atmosphere in Yolo County.

    At most, it accuses Sheriff Ed Prieto of being a lousy leader and bad manager whose imposing presence quashes any criticism or complaint among his staff. Plus, he might not have complied with some county-mandated training.”

    Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/06/12/6477139/editorial-accusations-against.html#storylink=cpy

  5. Here’s more from the editorial in the Bee:

    However, its misleading title aside, the report did raise issues disturbing enough that they need both a public airing and an outside review. The most troubling are the allegations of poor morale among deputies and the existence of an evaluation system that uses baseball metaphors and appears to be a type of quota system for felony arrests.

    Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/06/12/6477139/editorial-accusations-against.html#storylink=cpy

    • Davis Progressive

      if accurate. people i have talked to inside the sheriff’s office deny that there is such a system and don’t know where that report came from.

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