Grand Jury Hits Sheriff For “Leadership Practices from the Wild, Wild West”

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Sheriff-PrietoThe Grand Jury has hit Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto on a wide variety of issues, after receiving a complaint against the long-time sheriff.

The complaint ranged from mismanagement, bad behavior, poor leadership, and non-compliance with county policies and procedures.

Writes the Grand Jury: “(We) received a complaint against the Yolo County Sheriff. The scope of the complaint and the fact that the subject of the complaint was an elected official were significant. The Grand Jury formed an ad hoc committee to complete a thorough and detailed investigation into the complaint. To ensure an unbiased and independent counsel, the Grand Jury sought legal advice from the State Attorney General through each step of the investigation. That advice was sought specifically with regard to allegations that included a call for the Sheriff’s removal from office.”

They continued: “The County had been concerned with these same issues and had conducted multiple interviews and investigations into complaints regarding the Sheriff. However, the County’s internal investigations were conducted in such a manner that the employees participating did not believe the interviews were confidential thus preventing them from speaking openly and freely in response to inquiries.”

“In this Grand Jury investigation, most interviewees testified under subpoena and were assured of the confidentiality of the Grand Jury process,” they report.

In addition to the original complaint, the Grand Jury also found acts of nepotism, favoritism and management by intimidation, ineffective training and a sheriff’s department burdened by poor morale. However, “the Grand Jury did not find acts of willful or corrupt misconduct that rose to the level that warranted an accusation.”

The Sheriff’s Office released the following statement in response to the report: “The Yolo County Sheriff’s Office appreciates and welcomes the opinions of the Grand Jury.  As with any concerns brought forward, a thorough inquiry and analysis of evidence based facts will lead to enhanced procedures, policies, and protocols, if necessary.  As stated in other Grand Jury audits, the department’s oversight maintains an efficient level of service to the public.  We continue to strive for top performance in all sections of our department, continually search for best practices and always seek better ways to serve the public.  This commitment is not only embedded in our overall mission, but also in our daily work.”

The report gives a description of the events:

On December 10, 2001 the Sheriff hired an immediate family member for the Civil Section as a provisional employee. A provisional employee appointment may be made when no certified list of qualified candidates exists. A person employed under a provisional appointment shall serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority. The appointing authority in this case was the Sheriff.

Four months later, in April 2002, the Sheriff was notified by the County Administrative Officer (CAO) that the family member’s employment within his Department was in violation of the County Nepotism Policy Section 2-6.44, dated July 24, 2000, and that he was required to terminate his relative. On April 7, 2002, the relative resigned from the Sheriff’s Department. On that same day, the CAO reassigned that same relative to the Probation Department, again as a provisional employee.

The Sheriff contacted several members of the Board of Supervisors, County Counsel and CAO to protest the Nepotism Policy. On March 25, 2003, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved an amended Nepotism Policy. The amended policy, Ordinance No. 1928, now allowed relatives to work in the same department as long as there are at least two levels of supervision between the two related parties.

On April 28, 2003, four days after the BOS amended action became effective, the immediate family member was rehired to the original position in the Sheriff’s Department and the Sheriff authorized a ten percent salary increase.

The Grand Jury also learned that in July 2004, the Sheriff’s Department had a certified eligibility list for a clerical position. A departmental supervisor was directed by the Sheriff to close the list without offering interviews to any of the qualified candidates. Once that recruitment’s certified list was exhausted and closed, another immediate family member was then hired as a provisional employee in a clerical position.

Since the revision of the Nepotism Policy in 2003, the Grand Jury learned of instances where there were not at least two levels of separation between the Sheriff and immediate family members. The instances include:

  • Personnel Action Form (PAF) determining the family member’s salary was authorized by the Sheriff;
  • Performance Evaluations and disciplinary actions for the family members were reviewed and approved by the Sheriff;
  • December 2005, a family member received a Notice of Intent to Discipline, for insubordination and unauthorized use of department property, proposing a suspension of 16 hours; the Sheriff reduced this discipline to 8 hours. Three weeks later, in January 2006, the family member was promoted; and,
  • From 2006 through 2013, the same family member received desirable assignments.

The current County nepotism policy, updated in 2003, permits employment of family members so long as neither family member is responsible for or influences any employment action. Typical actions not permitted would include: hiring, promoting, reclassifying, evaluating, making salary recommendation, assigning work resources, approving leave requests, disciplining or terminating employment.

The Grand Jury discovered multiple examples where the Sheriff’s family members – known within the Department as “SD” – received preferential treatment for either themselves or their division, the “SD” had the Sheriff’s ear and some employees believed they could influence his decisions to benefit areas which included early time off during the holidays, or other organizational and administrative matters. This preferential treatment was described that some co-workers would voice their wish to a “SD” in their division so they could get some desired equipment, staffing or technology.

The Grand Jury learned that in addition to family members, several friends and acquaintances of the Sheriff were hired into the Department as extra help or temporary employees. The Sheriff’s practice of hiring friends and acquaintances as provisional, extra help or temporary employees avoids a competitive recruitment process and circumvents fair hiring policies and procedures of HR. It was reported that these special recruitment and hiring practices gave friends and acquaintances an inside advantage by providing knowledge and familiarity with the position, increasing the likelihood they could be eventually hired into full-time employment.

While these recruitment and hiring processes are not illegal, they clearly draw attention to the lack of 1) policies and procedures and 2) oversight to recognize and avoid conflicts of interest, and issues of fairness and ethics of the hiring process in the Sheriff’s Department and Yolo County. Employees reported these acts of favoritism and nepotism as discriminatory, prejudicial and biased and that such preferential treatment has affected morale throughout the Department.

During a Grand Jury interview with the Sheriff, he learned that being in the same chain of command with his family members presents an inherent conflict of interest and he immediately issued a memo to the Undersheriff and captains, dated March 7, 2014, directing any future personnel actions regarding either of his immediate family members to the Undersheriff. This action was acknowledged by the Grand Jury as a start to Grand Jury recommendations.

The Grand Jury also found that through 2010 the Yolo County job application did not ask for family relationships for disclosure of nepotism. The current online Yolo County job application has corrected this issue.

The Grand Jury also learned on multiple occasions, employees were threatened, intimidated, and had experienced adverse employment actions as a result of challenging the sheriff’s agenda.

Examples include:

  • During manager and supervisory meetings the Sheriff openly discussed employees who had made alleged claims of sexual harassment against him. He would ridicule, accuse the employees of lying and berate them in large group meetings. Those attending would then be threatened with “whatever is said in this meeting stays in the meeting.”
  • Employees reported, to the Grand Jury, acts of retribution for following County policy that the Sheriff opposed. Those employees challenging the Sheriff’s command led to re-assignment within the Department, Internal Affairs investigations, informal corrective actions and minor disciplinary actions.
  • The Sheriff, upon hearing of this Grand Jury investigation, made contact with other employees and associates to obtain information regarding activities of this Grand Jury. These actions left employees intimidated that their confidentiality as Grand Jury witnesses was compromised, putting them and other employees at risk of retaliation. Witnesses indicated that the Grand Jury’s assurances of confidentiality could not assure them that other witnesses would have the same integrity.
  • There were attempts by the Sheriff to influence the selection of representatives of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (DSA) and of acts of retribution against elected DSA representatives who disagreed with the Sheriff’s agenda. The effect of these acts on the morale of the DSA discouraged deputy participation in representation and left DSA members less than confident in the role of the DSA to act effectively for its membership.
  • Employees reported that although one’s classification may include management or supervisory duties, the Sheriff always has the final say. Proposed actions, including assignments, scheduling, evaluations, discipline and awards have been micromanaged by the Sheriff and often changed or revised from staff recommendations.

The report also hit on the issue of poor morale. HR had attempted three separate investigations regarding alleged intimidation, harassment, favoritism and other acts unbecoming an officer. The Grand Jury reports, “Two of these investigations were not conducted in an impartial manner. Interviews were conducted onsite at the Sheriff’s Offices and/or interviewees were selected by department leadership.”

Because of the manner in which they were conducted, “employees reported they felt their confidentiality was not protected and feared intimidation and retribution by the Sheriff. Employees explained that they chose loyalty to the Department by remaining silent rather than confront the concerns and issues of those investigations by the County Administration and HR.”

The Grand Jury also learned that deputies within the Department are held to “unwritten work standards” affecting employees’ monthly and annual performance evaluations.

FINDINGS

F1. Favoritism, nepotism and preferential treatment of employees have adversely affected employee morale of the Sheriff’s Department. These practices by the Sheriff involve hiring, promotion, assignments and discipline.

F2. The Sheriff uses or creates provisional or extra help positions to employ personal friends and relatives.

F3. The Sheriff has engaged in hiring immediate family, authorizing their assignments, determining their promotions and salary, and using final authority to determine disciplinary actions.

F4. The HR Department conducted three ineffective investigations related to allegations of harassment and poor morale at the Sheriff’s Department.

F5. The Sheriff’s Department, a military-like structure, with a clear and rigid chain of command, operates with minimal external administrative resources, particularly the County HR Department and labor organizations.

F6. The Sheriff’s micromanagement reduces Department supervisors’ and managers’ authority to lead and evaluate staff.

F7. The Sheriff’s Department operates with unwritten work standards for deputies who are evaluated by these standards on a monthly and annual basis. These standards are inconsistently applied by supervising staff.

F8. The Sheriff failed to observe County Code Section 2-6.44 Nepotism Policy by hiring immediate family members and determining their salaries, promotions, assignments, performance evaluations and discipline.

F9. The Sheriff was unaware of the contents and intent of the State of California Public Service Ethics AB 1234.

F10. The Grand Jury was unable to determine the County’s compliance with the State of California Public Service Ethics AB 1234 mandated training for 2006-2011 for the Sheriff.

F11. HR manages harassment and ethics online training courses for all employees to comply with state and federal laws. These outdated and repetitious trainings are found to be inadequate and ineffective.

F12. The HR Department serves in an advisory role and lacks appropriate oversight and accountability of personnel matters at the Sheriff’s Department.

F13. The CAO and HR have insufficiently monitored and audited the Sheriff’s Department compliance with County Codes and Policies and Procedures.

F14. The CAO conducts a 360 degree evaluation for all appointed Department Heads. This evaluation process currently excludes elected officials.

RECOMMENDATIONS

R1. By September 30, 2014, the HR Department shall review and revise the County nepotism policies and existing practices including prevention, monitoring and reporting of conflicts of interest.

R2. The HR department will annually review nepotism practices in the Sheriff’s Department. Such a review shall ensure ethical

R3. By September 30, 2014, the CAO shall review and revise the County’s mandated training requirements and compliance with the State of California Public Service Ethics as directed by AB 1234.

R4. By November 30, 2014, the Sheriff’s Department in collaboration with HR shall review and revise the evaluation standards (written and unwritten) used for all department job classifications to establish a fair and objective set of written guidelines.

R5. By September 30, 2014, the Sheriff’s Department in collaboration with HR shall develop a plan to reinforce the authority of the command staff. This plan shall define the level of authority of supervisors and managers for supervising, evaluating and effectively recommending personnel actions for the staff they oversee.

R6. By June 30, 2015, the leadership of the Sheriff’s Department, in collaboration with HR, shall develop and implement an internal training program to promote and encourage upward mobility within the department up to and including the elected official’s position. Such a training program will serve as a blueprint for department succession planning.

R7. By December 1, 2014, HR shall review and update Harassment and Ethics online training programs and implement a training program that includes classroom (in-person) training.

R8. By November 1, 2014, the CAO shall revise and extend the current 360 degree evaluation process to include an opportunity for all elected department heads to participate.

R9. The Grand Jury recommends that elected public officials submit themselves to the 360 degree evaluation process used by all other department heads in the County.

Sheriff Ed Prieto has not returned a call from the Vanguard. Supervisor Matt Rexroad indicated that he would issue a statement this afternoon.

The Vanguard will update this story as warranted.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

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.

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15 thoughts on “Grand Jury Hits Sheriff For “Leadership Practices from the Wild, Wild West””

  1. Davis Progressive

    i’ve known about this for awhile. strangely i thought the report would be worse, but the grand jury’s findings pull their punch at the end. a lot of these allegations are old. the worst stuff may be the county hr department and the overlapping between elected department heads and governance. somehow the county is going to have to fix that.

  2. Ryan Kelly

    The report in The Davis Enterprise also includes a merit system that has developed in the Sheriff’s Office for Deputies and given baseball terminology (Homeruns = Felony arrests, etc.)
    “The Grand Jury also learned that deputies within the Department are held to “unwritten work standards” affecting employees’ monthly and annual performance evaluations. The standards include items such as the number of monthly reports written, patrol miles driven, and types of arrests, with a higher degree of arrests earning more value and prestige. It was also learned that these standards are applied differently among supervisors, allowing employees to be treated inconsistently in evaluations, making it impossible to confront or address the evaluation criteria.
    The Sheriff’s Department Field Operations Division uses baseball metaphors for internal performance evaluations; a felony arrest is a “homerun” while a misdemeanor is a “double” and a citation is only a “single.” Described as “playing a sports game,” deputies would be expected to reach an above average score in order to avoid a negative performance evaluation. This statistical ranking competition, or “the game,” while potentially motivational, is considered by deputies and supervisors as punitive and demoralizing. Employees reported that along with negatively affecting morale, this also has the potential of placing the public at risk of unfair targeting for the chase of the “homerun.” “

  3. Ryan Kelly

    There also was a recent article on the Vanguard that the Sheriff’s Department has not participated in any training regarding responding to people with mental health issues. I thought that was significant at the time, but now I’m really concerned about the lack of training in this area and the apparent disregard for training in general.

  4. Davis Progressive

    the problem with this report is some of the allegations go back 11 years, others are based on lawsuits that were actually thrown out and investigations that into complaints that trained investigators found to be without merit.

    also why would the grand jury call this “the wild, wild, west” seems unprofessional.

    1. tj

      Just because a lawsuit is thrown out doesn’t mean it didn’t have merit. It all depends on what a judge wants, i.e., to support the Sheriff, or not.

      1. Biddlin

        From the Yolo County Home Page: http://www.yolocounty.org/business/community/grand-jury
        “Much of the Grand Jury’s effectiveness comes from the viewpoint of its members, fresh and unencumbered by prior conceptions about government. Jurors enjoy a uniquely sensitive position. This enables them to not only gain considerable knowledge about government functions, but to recommend constructive action to improve the quality and effectiveness of local government. ”
        “Candidates are screened by the Yolo Superior Court. Grand jurors are selected by random draw just prior to July 1.

        To qualify for Grand Jury service, you must meet the following requirements:

        You are a citizen of the United States;

        You are at least 18 years of age;

        You have been a Yolo County resident for at least one year immediately before selection;

        You are in possession of your natural faculties, of ordinary intelligence, of sound judgment and of fair character;

        You possess sufficient knowledge of the English language;

        You are not serving as a trial juror in any court of this state;

        You have not been discharged as a grand juror in any court of this state within one year; and

        You have not been convicted of malfeasance in office or any other felony or other high crime.

        Grand jury service is important work and a considerable responsibility. It is also an exciting opportunity to serve your community and learn more about local government. It can be an incredibly rewarding and satisfying experience.

        Grand Jurors serve for a one-year term, from July 1 through June 30. Grand jurors should be committed to serving the entire term. The estimated time commitment is approximately 25 – 40 hours per month. Generally, two grand jury meetings are conducted per month, usually in the evening. Additional committee meetings may sometimes be scheduled during business hours. There are two training opportunities for Grand Jury service. One half-day session takes place in Woodland just before the new term begins. Another one to two-day seminar, sponsored by the California Grand Jurors’ Association takes place in the Sacramento area soon after the new term begins.

        Jury Services
        725 Court Street, Room 303
        Woodland, CA 95695
        530 406-6828”
        You sound like someone with a great deal to contribute.

  5. Ryan Kelly

    Stay focused on the problem with the Sheriff. The Davis Fire Department has been highly criticized for much less. Why do we put up with such poor leadership in our Sheriff’s department?

    1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      Because we elect that position. If it were appointed, like the Davis Chief of Police, for example, it would be run professionally; and if the appointed sheriff failed to behave and manage in a professional manner, he would be fired and replaced.

  6. tj

    Next department up might be the Conservator’s.
    Upper management staff routinely give away conservatees property without regard to preserving the conservatee’s assets.
    And upper level staff take home for themselves property belonging to conservatees.

    Elected dept. heads are often charming, but it doesn’t mean they’re good managers.

  7. tj

    Homeruns — I always wondered why Deputy Diaz chased down a dark dirt road in the dead of night, without backup. How dumb could he be? But perhaps he was trying for a “homerun” to get ahead in the dept.

    As Ryan Kelly pointed out, there are serious dangers for mentally ill, and for others including mentally impaired, non English speakers, and so on, due to lack of training and pursuit of Homeruns, AND there is danger for deputies too.

  8. Tia Will

    “also why would the grand jury call this “the wild, wild, west” seems unprofessional.”

    What seems unprofessional here to me is running law enforcement as a “game” and employing family and acquaintances without a competitive process.

  9. tribeUSA

    I second Tia’s comment; the baseball analogies could be used in a lighthearted and fun way and be harmless; but if they are taken seriously or if “homerun” count etc. are used in performance reviews; this is unprofessional and potentially very harmful.

    Yikes about the nepotism–wonder how long this has been going on; and how the sheriff’s office was able to get away with it for so long? How many other employees of the sheriffs office are using nepotism?

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