By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones – who has a deserved reputation of refusing to provide information to the public and news media – was dealt a bruising blow by the courts this week when a judge upheld a new California law requiring law enforcement agencies to release their internal records.
Jones and other law enforcement agencies were put on notice, though Jones tried to put a pretty face on it.
Jones said that that he had denied media requests for five years of his department’s records dealing with deputies accused of misconduct or the firing of their weapons in the line of duty because he wasn’t sure if the law could be retroactive.
But social justice activists think there’s more to it.
“It sounds like Scott is just setting the stage for more delays in releasing information,” said Tanya Faison, co-founder and organizer with Black Lives Matter Sacramento.
“He’s describing all the things he has to do, including redactions and how large his department is….it just sounds like he’s preparing to delay providing information to the public. That’s what Scott does,” Faison added.
“He just needs to comply. If not, it only make us wonder what he is hiding,” she said.
“It is only natural for Sheriff Scott Jones to want the vicious and brutal acts of his deputies to remain hidden from the public. He knows what they are guilty of. He is responsible for keeping them on duty,” said Jamier Sale, an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition in Sacramento.
“It is disappointing to see agencies tasked with the enforcement of laws seeking to change, alter and rewrite laws to their benefit. The Sheriff doesn’t get to decide when to follow the law,” added Sale.
“Whether it is denying access to Independent Investigators, committing a hit and run on Florin Road during a protest, or holding mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement, the Sheriff has shown a continued pattern of lawlessness. It is this impunity that creates the cleavages that divide our communities and that we seek to end in order to bring peace to our streets,” he said.
Despite Jones’ reluctance, as noted by Sale, or stalling, as Faison predicted, the Walnut Creek Police Officers’ Association case decision made it very clear that Jones must release the information.
In a statement to news media, Jones said he made the decision initially not to release the information because the records are “protected by law, and give rise to financial and legal penalties if released without authorization (and) releasing the records erroneously is irreversible, whereas withholding the records until a legal determination is made is easily reversible.”
That said, Jones now says his office is working on the process to release the sought-after records, although he suggested it may take some time to determine what records should be redacted.
Still, Faison and others have been battling the sheriff for some kind of transparency for years now, especially since Black Lives Matter Sacramento burst onto the local scene after a series of killings and abuses of people of color by law enforcement.
Jones has been accused by BLM Sacramento for not providing victims and families of victims of Sacramento Sheriff’s Dept violence with answers to questions about SSD shootings of civilians.
Faison, in fact, has charged that not only has Jones refused to answer, he’s attacked her on social media platforms and, she said, “terrorized” her.
Just last February, sheriff deputies – in Black Lives Matter’s words – attacked the children of a Black Sacramento mother and museum founder. The gang unit misidentified the children. The Sheriff has not commented on that incident.
And, in a May 2017 case, Black Lives Matter has yet to get any information about how and why two deputies fired 29 shots at an unarmed and fleeing Mikel McIntyre, killing him. He was having a mental breakdown and allegedly threw a rock at a deputy.
Jones did break his silence about a year ago March when a Sheriff’s Dept. cruiser ran over a disabled women in a march protesting the shooting death of unarmed Stephon Clark in his grandparents’ backyard.
The woman was hospitalized after suffering a concussion. Jones held a news conference, showing edited footage of the sheriff’s vehicle dash camera – he normally does not release dash cam footage. His deputies do not wear body cameras, unlike City of Sacramento officers.
Oddly, Jones said he had not spoken to the deputy driving the vehicle. The video of the encounter was circulated worldwide by CNN and other national and international news organizations. The National Lawyers Guild of Sacramento, which was on the scene when the incident occurred, condemned the action by the SSD.