Supervisors False-Start Again on Police Accountability

By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Capitol Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Moving fast is often a good thing – but when you’re Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy and you’re dealing with an ultra-sensitive subject like cop-accountability and the persona of controversial Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones, maybe a slower lane is a safer place to travel.

So, although Kennedy wanted Tuesday to ram through – with less than a day’s notice – a new “memo of understanding” and hire a new inspector general to watch over the Sheriff’s office, he reluctantly agreed to postpone it to Dec. 10 after he received pushback from other board members, and the public at large.

“I’ve been criticized for going too slow and then too fast,” said Kennedy, noting that he felt “but sooner is better” because it’s been about a year now since when Jones unceremoniously locked the office door to the previous IG when Jones didn’t like what the IG had said about a Sheriff shooting.

Kennedy Tuesday admitted “I made a mistake. I didn’t think I was rushing, but I can see that perception.”

Kennedy told a sparse crowd at the Supervisors’ meeting – criminal reform advocates hadn’t had time to mobilize – he and Jones didn’t finish interviews until Monday. The board meeting packet had already been prepared.

Mark Evenson, a former Seattle police officer and Brentwood (CA) Police Chief, appears to be the pick of Kennedy and Jones for the IG spot – the IG reviews and independently investigates excessive force, deputy shootings and in-custody deaths, among other things. The office comes with a budget of $130,000.

Evenson’s relevant qualities for the IG job appear to be his decades as a Seattle Police patrol cop, Sgt. and Captain in charge of internal affairs, review of use of force complaints, and communication with the community.

Kennedy said it was hard to find IG candidates. The first call garnered only one candidate, who was not a fit, he said.

The second call for the IG position, after the county used a recruitment consultant, resulted in only a handful of recommended candidates. Then, Kennedy said, after one dropped out, another was ruled out, the others were interviewed Monday by Jones and Kennedy, with input, but no vote by the deputies union and law enforcement management association.

There was no input from the community despite the rash of excessive force complaints and police shootings over the last few years. Kennedy didn’t address that directly.

“Let’s face it. I was not an easy job to fill,” confessed Kennedy, noting that the episode a year ago when Jones locked out Rick Braziel, the IG and former city of Sacramento police chief, was not an encouraging factor to candidates for the position.

There were four comments opposing the quick approval by Kennedy, including Dr. Rita Cepeda, who criticized Jones for trying to intimidate the board by “telling you not to go too far…he’s like a dictator.”

Liz Blum, of Decarcerate Sacramento, said “We want true community oversight to hold the sheriff accountable. How can we expect the community’s voice to be heard if he (Jones) get to choose his own boss? We want someone who is independent. This is not oversight and not what we elected you (the board) to do.”

“This saga has gone on for a year. We need more public accountability for the Sheriff. You can’t imagine Sacramento residents weighing in? It feels like we are putting the IG on a leash and the Sheriff doesn’t have to provide information. His idea of what is reasonable is not the same as the public,” said Courtney Hanson.

Mackenzie Wilson reminded the board to be inclusive even with a “sense of urgency…we need to prioritize impacted voices.”

The MOU, which could still undergo some changes before Dec. 10, and even after that meeting following community input, is long and extensive. Largely, pointed out Kennedy and staff Tuesday, it differs from the contract with earlier IGs, whose job it was to first and foremost oversee the county jail.

Under this MOU, if the board of supervisors and IG disagree with the Sheriff, he cannot lock the IG out, but must go to mandated mediation with the board. The mediator will be from a pool of retired/semi-retired judges.

The IG can’t interview employees and deputies, but can request documents from the Sheriff, who can deny the requests but only for good reasons. The Sheriff has the right to review all reports prior to release to the public.

“I disagreed with the decision when the Sheriff locked out the previous IG…this (MOU) has more teeth in it. It’s not perfect,” said Kennedy, noting that much of the drafting was done by Supervisor Phil Serna, who clashed with Jones repeatedly over locking out Braziel, the IG last year.

“We want to avoid that unfortunate situation from happening again,” said Kennedy Tuesday, explaining that he plans to work “with those outside this room,” adding, “This MOU doesn’t go far enough in my mind.”

Supervisor Don Nottoli said he wanted to “avoid” the lock out from last year, and “assure the community that this is being taken seriously by the board. If there are citizen complaints then there is a conduit for IG to receive complaints and concerns, independently.”

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