By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Weeks after the public and at least one other supervisor balked, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved the hiring of a new inspector general for the Sheriff’s Department, and approved a “memorandum of understanding” to help keep – the board hopes – Sheriff Scott Jones from tossing the new IG out on his ear if Jones doesn’t like what he says.
Calling the process “clunky,” Board of Supervisors chair Patrick Kennedy gaveled a unanimous vote to approve the dual moves – the MOU is crucial because the Sheriff locked out the last IG about a year ago when the IG, former Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel, criticized some decisions made by deputies.
The MOU 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. This new MOU gives the IG broader responsibilities.
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.
And, as several Supes pointed out, 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.
“I disagreed with the decision when the Sheriff locked out the previous IG…this (MOU) has more teeth in it (but) 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 last year.
“We want to avoid that unfortunate situation from happening again,” said Kennedy Tuesday, explaining that he plans to work “with those in the community” on related issues, possibly including a civilian review board with subpoena or other broader powers. Kennedy said, “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.”
Mark Evenson, a former Seattle police officer and Brentwood (CA) Police Chief, is 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.
Community advocates were still uniformly unsatisfied with the vote Tuesday. Several said they were surprised that Evenson wasn’t at the meeting.
“We need meaningful community oversight. Without the powers of the community, this is not enough. The IG accountability is unclear (and) seems cozy already with the Sheriff’s department. This should really be a community conversation about a police apologist from Seattle…not his role alone,” said Nikki Jones of Decarcerate Sacramento.
Another speaker, Courtney Hansen, citing deaths in the jail and on the streets and other “inhumane” abuse attributed to the Sheriff’s Department, and said excessive force lawsuits against the county “are endless…it seems that broken arms during booking is a policy that Jones allows. We pay for this. We need an independent civilian review board.”
And Mackenzie Wilson chastised supervisors, telling them that “this isn’t good enough. We need to stop and do this better,” and called for a community review board “with teeth” because “the problem is they police themselves…that doesn’t work.”
ACLU of Sacramento co-chair Allen Asch urged the supervisors to create a community based oversight board with subpoena power because the new IG won’t be “enough to stop this Sheriff (who) refuses to follow the law, and is lawless.”
Liz Blum encouraged Kennedy, who she had met with privately, to share his “courage” with the community, and challenged him to be more honest in public, noting “It’s shocking and surprising” that Kennedy wasn’t more forthright in public as he was in a private conversation.
Supervisor Serna admitted that “many of you think this is distasteful” (Jones picking the IG), but said to him – a frequent and strong critic of Jones – the key was the dispute resolution portion of the MOU because that “would offer a different sequence of events if there’s a disagreement with the Sheriff and the board.”
Added Serna, “Without it (the MOU), I’m not prepared to move ahead with any of this. We’d have what we had last year (with) the Sheriff acting unilaterally to stop of IG from doing his job.”
Kennedy earlier remarked that it wasn’t easy finding 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 by him and Jones. There was input, but no vote, by the deputies union and law enforcement management association.
“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 then IG Braziel was not a positive or inviting factor to candidates for the position.