Last week, the Yolo County Grand Jury came out with a report that alleged that Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto had been responsible for a wide variety of issues within his department, ranging from mismanagement, bad behavior and poor leadership, to non-compliance with county policies and procedures.
In response, 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.”
The question since the release and response is what direction does this go. Supervisor Jim Provenza indicated last 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.
On Thursday, the county proposed a new way forward. Yolo County Sheriff-Coroner Ed Prieto and the Yolo County Board of Supervisors have announced a path forward to assess the items of concern identified in the recent Yolo County Grand Jury report concerning the internal operations of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office.
Woodland Mayor Skip Davies, whose term ends July 2, has agreed to chair an independent working group charged with completing an evaluation of the issues identified in the Grand Jury report, and to make recommendations where appropriate to improve the operational environment within the sheriff’s department. Sheriff Prieto has encouraged representatives of the five labor organizations that serve the department to actively participate with Mayor Davies in the working group. The Board of Supervisors and the sheriff recognize and appreciate Mayor Davies’ willingness to assist in this effort.
The Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Prieto look forward to working with Mayor Davies in the coming weeks to identify the scope and methodologies for the working group. Areas of analysis are expected to include the issues raised in the Grand Jury report, plus a comprehensive look at the workplace climate, hiring processes, current training practices and employee evaluation processes.
“It is important to me not only that the issues raised by the grand jury be fully analyzed, but also that all of the employees within the Sheriff’s department be provided an opportunity to be heard,” said Yolo County Sheriff-Coroner Ed Prieto. “I fully support this effort and believe it will enhance my personal commitment and the department’s commitment to excellence and the performance of our duties with increased professionalism and integrity.”
The Board of Supervisors and the sheriff take these issues very seriously. “The Board of Supervisors is encouraged by the Sheriff’s support of a comprehensive evaluation,” said Yolo Board of Supervisors Chair Don Saylor. “A safe and supportive work environment for all county employees is very important to the board, and any effort to strengthen that foundation is a step in the right direction.”
Will this approach enable the county to move forward?
The Grand Jury report itself has been accused of embellishment, and failure to substantiate the most serious charges, as Supervisor 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.
“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.
Or, as he put it another way, “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.”
As the Bee wrote, given accusations of the “wild, wild, west,” “[o]ne 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.”
As the Bee noted, “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.”
“For other county department heads, those deficiencies would be enough to be fired by the Board of Supervisors,” the Bee adds. “But in this case, supervisors, who requested the grand jury report, have little power to enforce it.”
There seemed to be a stalemate, however, this plan may give it the possibility of moving the process forward. As Mr. Rexroad told the Vanguard on Thursday, “These concerns are very serious. By agreeing to do this the Sheriff acknowledges the concerns.”
“I don’t know what parts of the Grand Jury report are true but I know the culture in the Sheriff’s Department needs to be fixed,” he added. “Reports like this don’t come out regarding well run departments.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting