Supervisors: Increased collaboration, clear priorities needed to ensure county law enforcement watchdog’s success
Sonoma County supervisors reaffirmed their support for the county’s independent auditor Tuesday, but said mounting tensions between sheriff’s officials and the auditor’s office pointed to needed changes to ensure the future success of the watchdog entity.
Supervisors offered no clear direction on how to resolve the problem, only saying the topic should be discussed at a later date.
The two men leading the opposing offices, outgoing Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano and Jerry Threet, director of the county’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, publicly aired their grievances with the auditing process at Tuesday’s meeting, where Threet presented an annual report and proposed changes to the ordinance that established his office.
Their clashing personalities and differing opinions about what’s expected from their respective offices during the auditing process have eroded relationships between the two agencies, said Giordano, who apologized to the outgoing auditor for the tension.
“The most frustrating thing for me was the breakdown in communication and that was the underpinning problem here,” Giordano said at the meeting. “I can’t pull any punches. I’m not saying it was his fault. I’m saying I’m sorry.”
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said those fundamental differences were obvious from reading the annual report, published by Threet on Nov. 16.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office issued a written response to the report. With new leaders expected to soon take control of each office, it was important that county leaders look for ways to avoid future conflicts and encourage increased collaboration between the two agencies, she said.
Giordano will step down as the county’s top cop at the end of the year, making way for incoming Sheriff Mark Essick. Threet will retire as the county’s first-ever independent auditor, a position created after the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a deputy in 2013, as soon as county leaders hire his replacement. Threet said health concerns prompted his decision to leave the auditor post.
“We really need to work on establishing clear priories for the office, clear standards for engagement in terms of what we expect, and have a conversation, hopefully with all of us … to really sit down and makes sure we don’t set the next office up to fail,” Hopkins said.
Among the biggest points of contention between Giordano and Threet was what each expected from the other’s office during the internal investigation and subsequent audit.
Threet argued that, in some cases, deputies weren’t casting a wide enough net when collecting evidence during alleged misconduct complaints, resulting in incomplete investigations. For example, he said, investigators failed to interview all witnesses and deputies accused of wrongdoing, or did not collect third-party evidence that could’ve been relevant in a case, such as phone records.
Giordano said internal affairs investigators aren’t expected to meet Threet’s standards, which more closely resemble that of a criminal case. Instead, investigators only need to review the most compelling evidence to make a finding. More extensive internal affairs investigations would require additional resources that the Sheriff’s Office does not have, Giordano said.
Threet asked for more money to hire additional staff, as well as greater access to the Sheriff’s Office files such as dispatch records and body-worn camera footage to more thoroughly complete his audits.