Sonoma County appoints Garrick Byers as interim head of law enforcement oversight office

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of Garrick Byers at its meeting Tuesday.|

Garrick Byers, a former public defender and employee at Sonoma County’s Independent Office for Law Enforcement Review and Oversight, will serve as IOLERO’s interim director as the county conducts a nationwide search for a candidate to permanently fill the role.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of the appointment and contract with Byers at its meeting Tuesday.

“We are fortunate to have such an experienced professional take on this leadership role until we’re able to recruit a director,” County Administrator Sheryl Bratton said in a statement ahead of the vote.

He fills the vacancy created in November when Gov. Gavin Newson appointed former director Karlene Navarro to the Sonoma County Superior Court bench.

After earning his law degree at Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C., Byers served as public defender in Fresno, Contra Costa and Solano counties. In Fresno, his auditing experience began with a committee that attempted unsuccessfully to implement formal civilian oversight of police in the city.

In September, Byers joined IOLERO as an auditor, reviewing formal complaints about the Sheriff’s Office and the department’s internal investigations.

As interim director, his responsibilities now include leading the watchdog agency’s audits as well as building relationships with the Sheriff’s Office and with the public. His approved contract sets his annual pay at $175,297.

“I’m looking forward to helping IOLERO, to furthering good relations with the sheriff’s department, to helping everyone there to improve,” Byers said in a press briefing Thursday.

He said he hopes “the community will really help the sheriff’s department, and the sheriff’s department and IOLERO will help the community.”

His aim is to become more active with IOLERO’s Community Advisory Council, the agency’s public facing arm. He also said he will continue working through IOLERO’s backlog of Sheriff’s Office investigations, which extend as far back as 2017. He may produce a report with those audits ahead of the next annual roundup.

“I don’t plan any major changes in direction in what IOLERO does while I’m interim, but I do plan to further the plans that were already underway under Karlene Navarro,” he said.

Byers expected the search for a permanent director could take five months or longer. At this point, he said he does not predict he will apply for the position, but will keep his options open.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Byers presented to the Board of Supervisors the findings of IOLERO’s annual report for 2020-2021, which was published in late November.

The report included audits of 25 internal investigations of deputy misconduct by the Sheriff’s Office. More than a third, IOLERO found, were incomplete.

The report also made recommendations to reopen certain investigations or take actions to prevent deputy misconduct in the future, which the Sheriff’s Office has not yet formally responded to.

Callers during public comment questioned why Sheriff Mark Essick or a representative of his agency was not in attendance for the two agenda items regarding IOLERO.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, IOLERO liaison Lt. Brandon Cutting received an email about the IOLERO agenda items on Dec. 27, but not an invitation to attend.

“My office received the below notification regarding the item being placed on calendar, but never received an invitation to participate in today’s discussion from anyone at the (County Administrator’s Office) or IOLERO,” Essick wrote in an email to the supervisors that was provided to The Press Democrat. “I hope this clears up any confusion on the matter.”

The Sheriff’s Office was not expected to present Tuesday, as Byers was tasked to present IOLERO’s report to the Board of Supervisors, according to county spokeswoman Sylvia Lemus.

The Sheriff’s Office regularly receives notifications about various items placed on the Board of Supervisor’s agenda, according to Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Misti Wood.

“Essentially, a notification is informational while an invite is a request to participate,” she wrote in an email. “This means the (Board of Supervisors) is allotting time for us, we prepare a presentation, schedule staff to present, etc.”

No representative of the agency attended the meeting, Wood said.

You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or On Twitter @vv1lder.

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