Commentary: Sheriff’s Combative Tone during MRAP Discussion Was Not Helpful

Sheriff Ed Prieto makes his case to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors

Two and a half years ago, when the Davis Police brought in an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle), unbeknownst to the city council, there was great community outcry.  At both city council hearings and a public meeting, then-Assistant Police Chief Darren Pytel explained to the community the reason why the police department felt they needed an MRAP.

He explained that, while he didn’t think the community in Davis would accept an MRAP, after talking with his team he became convinced it was necessary.

Assistant Chief Pytel said that the MRAP “really is a defensive type of vehicle. It has armor protection so you can move officers into an environment where firearms are present, and you don’t have to worry about getting hit. The MRAP will actually take care of all the rifles we encounter.”

He explained that the range of rifles are long and you cannot get in close for negotiation. “It actually does give us the ability to get in close.”

I came out of the discussion appreciating the position, but still believing that an MRAP was not an appropriate civilian police vehicle – but I was willing to allow the city to try to purchase a more appropriate vehicle for civilian use.

I bring this up to contrast the approach of Darren Pytel with that of Ed Prieto.  Sheriff Ed Prieto came to the board of supervisors meeting with a chip on his shoulder.  He told the board that he believed he should be able to do whatever he believed was the right move and that he shouldn’t have to have board approval for it.

He pushed back against the community present at the meeting, that had concerns about having a third MRAP in the county.  He said, “I think my reputation speaks loudly in support of civil rights.”

He said he would absolutely not use the vehicle to oppose protests.  “Nowhere on the list is anything indicating that we’re going to use it for crowd control or opposition to any marches,” he said.

Then he went into this monologue to the effect that he knows better.  He said, “Our officers are put at harm’s way on a daily basis.”  He pointed to his 48 years in law enforcement, including during riots in LA, and he said, “I can honestly say there’s probably very few people in this crowd, very few people that are opposing this that have been in harm’s way to the level that many of us have been.”

Later he said, “I always find it sort of interesting that there’s so many people that dictate to law enforcement how we should conduct law enforcement. I do not go to a farmer and tell him how to farm. I do not go to a contractor and tell him how to build a house.”

These are troubling comments.  They go to the heart of the issue of police and civilian oversight.  But they are more fundamental.  And miss a fundamental point.

We don’t go to a farmer and tell him how to farm, but there are regulations and there is oversight.  If the farmer misuses pesticides, sprays too wide an area, or uses it during high winds or during the wrong time, you bet there is a county regulator who will come in to fine that farmer.

We don’t tell a contractor how to build a house – except that we do.  We have licensing for contractors and there are building codes and health codes.  So, you bet – we tell the contractor, in effect, how to build a house.

We have oversight and regulations for a whole host of industries.  And for a long time, the police and law enforcement had much more lax regulations, even as they had the authority to deprive people of their freedom, their property and potentially their lives.

The irony, of course, is that Sheriff Prieto does have a pretty good record when it comes to civil rights.  He has been admirable in his views on not cooperating with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) holds in the past.

In response to a question from Don Saylor, who pointed out that Homeland Security was on the list, Sheriff Prieto said that he was not going to get involved in any Homeland Security issue that involves deportation of undocumented immigrants.

However, during public comment, several commenters noted that Ed Prieto, who is approaching 74 years of age, will not be sheriff forever and, while he may have no intention to use the MRAP in protests or to assist Homeland Security or ICE, that doesn’t mean that the next sheriff won’t have different views on the appropriate use of the vehicle.

That is a big problem that we have here, aside from the sheriff acting as a bull in a china store.  The problem is that Ed Prieto is likely being completely honest when he told the board of supervisors his intended use for the MRAP.

But, as we saw in Ferguson and Standing Rock, the use of military equipment is actually something that can inflame a volatile situation rather than calming it down.

In the fight against the militarization of police, the problem isn’t just the use of military equipment, designed for combat, in a civilian setting, but the mentality of the police that goes along with that.

For many, last Tuesday was the first time they saw Sheriff Prieto in action.  Since then, many in the public have mobilized to work against the MRAP.  This is likely going to be a far bigger and more contentious fight in April than it would have been in February.

There is a letter that will appear in Wednesday’s Enterprise, noting the comment from Sheriff Prieto and responding, “I find this comment to be of much greater concern than whether the Sheriff’s Department has an armored vehicle, and a good example of why oversight and public commentary are so valuable.”

They concluded, “In an era where the nation is being pressured as if we are in a constant and growing state of non-specified emergency for which unchecked authoritarianism is the solution, I hope we can keep a more balanced perspective locally. I am reassured that Yolo County makes these decisions thoughtfully.”

The performance also triggered a number of comments at the Davis City Council meeting last week.

For instance, Alan Hirsch told the council that it was the first time he had been to a board of supervisors meeting and he said, “I was struck as to how minimized the public involvement was in the process,” and “the Sheriff said in so many words that he didn’t think the public had the right to input into the process.”  “It was a very divisive comment,” he said, “minimizing the right to public involvement.”

This was the first exposure most of the people in the audience on Tuesday had to the sheriff and they came away feeling that their views were discounted.

If the sheriff wishes to reassure the community of the intended benign use of the MRAP, perhaps he should tone down his own rhetoric and stop yelling that people don’t understand what it’s like to be a law enforcement officer – that is no doubt true, but it is not going to win the day against a group of people who are growing more suspicious with government power by the day.

It was a tone deaf performance during a time that called for finesse.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. Tia Will

    Unlike much of the public, I have had direct experience with both Sheriff Prieto and Chief Pytel. I greatly admire both for their integrity and demonstrated willingness to act in the best interests of their communities as they understand those interests. However, I also believe that this is an area of relative weakness for both men, neither of whom seem to appreciate that there are other members of their profession who do not hold to their same standards and ideals. I believe from various conversations that both are under the impression that just being a member of a police force makes one morally driven and that abuses of power are relatively rare and dealt with effectively within our existing systems. This would be the equivalent of me maintaining that because I do not price gouge my patients, order unnecessary tests or procedures for profit, nor take kickbacks from drug companies, that means that no doctors engage in these unethical practices. Just as it is important to adhere to one’s own highest values, it is equally important to realize that everyone will not perform to the same high standard. When making public decisions, it is important to aim for the highest goal, but be wary of ceding excessive power to those who may not be so community oriented.

  2. aaahirsch8

    I told council:

    “we can survive the MRAP, but we can’t survive with a sheriff’s force that believes it is unaccountable to the public”.

    We give our police a monopoly on legitimate use for force to protect civil society, and give them a legally defined ” benefit of the doubt” when they use it.  But in a democracy, with the power comes responsibility and accountability.  Sheriff Prieto comments were very concerning as he denied any civilian oversight of his work.

    He seem to take the request for over sight on MRAP decsion by our elected officials as a personal attack on him.

    I hope the MRAP situation does not escalate to divisiveness between Sheriff and a large segment of the population…even if they are “from Davis”.  I have concerns with him personalizing everything thing said he is unable to listen to policy-based arguments.  This concern he is unable to listen is heighten when I look at the Yolo Sherif’s website and see a picture of him standing with his deputy sheriffs….and I don’t see much diversity (no women, for example), so I wonder if he has any insiders with different view who talk to him.

    I wonder if there are only right-wingers around him who want to set him up for this conflict with the more liberal members of public…I heard comment about “well they are from Davis” devaling the 24 people who spoke at supervisor meeting.

    Parieto lists “trust” as one of his department values, said before supervisors “have faith in me”, but trust between humans is earned by listening and working with others…particularly those that different than you and have different backgrounds experience…even if you DO know more then they do.

    I want to give the Sheriff the benefit of the doubt on MRAP:  I acknowledge I don’t understand his job and stresses, and I’m willing to listen to his arguments on MRAP.  But I must note he did do anything in advance of this meeting to that end: nothing in the staff report he submitted supoervisors in advance of the meeting.  He did submit an amendment to this a last minute: a 1 1/2 list of bullets point “list of of possible uses”, but even this was not available to public until just 10 minutes before the Final vote in the meeting…after most public input was already made.    This reinforce the sense he did not see working with the public as part of his job, part of earning trust of the public.


    I have great concerns this situation will not have a happy ending—either way the MRAP situation fall out trust will be deminished.

    This is where I started this comment: we can survive a 2nd MRAP in Woodland. we can  not survive a split between people of Yolo County and their sheriff.

    But public’ only right are to voice the concerns to their elected officials, as loud and numerous a way as possible…public input is a bunt instrument…even if it isconstitutional protected right.


    In contrast, Sherif Parieto as has ways to reframe the process and discuss his force’s needs …he has our attention: he could do community works shops, listening session, open houses….. tools the Davis Police department has used.

    I believe the Davis police Department was better for working thru the MRAP process….

    I sincerely hope Parieto can use this as a teach-able movement for the community, and  just force the supervisors to ‘split the baby”  by forcing a zero=sum game up/down vote on the MRAP.

    The Sheriff has our attention: how will he use it?


    Alan Hirsch



  3. Matt Williams

    My experience with Sheriff Prieto has also been very good.  However, his performance at the Supervisors meeting was wholly inconsistent with my past experiences with him.  The image that David has included in the article gives you a sense of what the Supervisors were facing as he lectured them.  As powerful as that image is, it pales when compared to the body language message that Sheriff Prieto conveyed throughout the public comment period, when he stood against the wall at the side of the chambers, with his arms crossed in front of his chest, with a glare on his face, and those Boss Godfrey (called “the man with no eyes” by the Cool Hand Luke prisoners) silvered reflective sunglasses.

    That body language was the antithesis of the message contained in his words “I have a very good record when it comes to civil rights!”   The intent of his visual message was clear.  He wanted each of the citizens who had the temerity to step up to the public comment podium to know, when they looked at him, that they needed to know what their fate was.

    1. Howard P

      Tad over the top, in the last line, Matt… but OK, for dramatic impact, and to cite a great character in a pretty darn good movie.  But as everyone knows, am just being a ‘troll’…


      1. Matt Williams

        You had to be there to appreciate it Howard.  You and I have seen Sheriff Prieto at his best.  This was the opposite end of the pendulum.  I’ll see if I can track down a picture of him as he stood on the side of the room in his “pose.”

        1. Roberta Millstein

          Howard, if that’s true, then Matt’s comment about “silvered reflective sunglasses” is false (even though funny – Cool Hand Luke being one of my favorite movies).  The glasses Prieto is wearing while he is at the microphone are perfectly ordinary, perhaps even the glasses of someone who is light sensitive.

          What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.  (Couldn’t resist).

        2. Matt Williams

          Roberta, the point you make is worth considering, especially for this human being who has glasses that respond to light and darken in order to protect my eyes. In the minimal ambient light that the Supervisors’ Chamber has in Woodland, the glasses you describe would not be darkened at all.  The second picture of Sheriff Prieto standing against the wall, still in the low lighting conditions of the same room show the visage that was projected.

          Glad you didn’t resist.

        3. Howard P

          Roberta and Matt… could well be two sets of glasses, but still camera angle/flash could easily explain a lot (remember, more than one set of ‘lenses’), but alternate explanations are also very plausible.  But am not going to stress over ANY theory on this matter.

  4. Mark Kropp

    I am a former member of the Yolo County Grand Jury. (Positions for the upcoming year are now available.) One of the duties of the Yolo County Grand Jury is an annual review of the county jail. This includes an assesment of the Sheriff’s management. Each of us on the jury had an opportunity to go  mano a mano with Mr Prieto as I dare  say, so did a bicycle thief most recently. I have also had the pleasure of interacting with him and his very kind wife at fundraisers. Yes, Matt, he does behave different in each situation, which is not unexpected. He is the right man for the right job at the right time. I empathize with his  disagreement of co-participation with Federal law enforcement, however, it is a requirement for the Sheriff to do so. He needs to first change this part of the job description or, as we all suspect, he will have to participate  with ICE. He does need to return with data on the cost of maintaining MRAP. And, yes, finally, and most importantly, he must have the Board of Supervisor’s approval, who in our democracy, do listen to the will of the people-You and me!

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