Scott Jones wasn't going to run for a third term as Sacramento County sheriff, but did so, anyway, when his choice to succeed him backed out. He is being challenged by three former sheriff’s department employees, who all say the agency must be reformed.
According to Jones, when it comes to reforms, his department is already leading the way. He rattled off a list of programs: youth services and community-relations units, plus programs in the branch jail focusing on job training, rehab, family reunification, anger management and resume building.
“I'd put it up against any county in the state,” Jones said of his office’s rehab programming. “We take a tremendous amount of ownership in our offenders and their successful integration."
Challengers say the department should do more. Milo Fitch works with the California Prison Industry Authority.
"We've been tough on crime for the last four decades — whether we saw the war on drugs, we saw determinate sentencing, the three-strikes law — and where has it gotten us?” Fitch asked. “We are not any safer for that.”
Fitch was a former chief deputy of the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Facility.
He says he put in education-focused reforms during his time with the department.“They were all evidence-based programs,” he said, adding that they dealt with helping “reduce criminal thinking patterns” and offering “real opportunities for jobs” when offenders leave jail.
“If we're able to change this group of people, our community is safer," Fitch said.
He left the department in 2014 after a commander filed an ethics complaint against him on behalf of deputies. The complaint alleges Fitch gave preferential treatment to inmates in a rehabilitation program, and to the woman who ran it. Fitch later married the woman.
Jones says there was reason to believe the allegations, which also included hostile work environment and discrimination.
Fitch denies any wrongdoing and says the release of the complaint, obtained by Fox 40, is politically motivated.
Donna Cox is also running against Jones. She retired as a sergeant after 22 years with the department and alleges cronyism.
"The way they promote is either you're friends with someone or you're a relative,” Cox said. “I want to bring back seniority and merit-based promotions."
She would also push to limit the amount of cross-training. "What they do is move people around every two-to-three years, because they want people to have a multitude of skills in different areas. But, the problem is you don't have any experts,” Cox said.
Jones says that, before he became sheriff, the subject of who gets promoted had been a frequent complaint. When elected, he installed a new system that he feels is more objective.
The final challenger, Bret Daniels, a member of the Citrus Heights City Council and a director of operations for a Sacramento security company, says the department must be more fiscally responsible, in particular with overtime and staffing costs.
"One of the things about my candidacy that's unique is I have 20 years of private sector experience. Nobody in the race has that. I've had to look at a bottom line forever," Daniels said.
He was a deputy with the department for 12 years and first ran for sheriff in 1998. He says he ran an aggressive campaign and was fired two years later as retaliation.
Daniels, Cox and Fitch all question Jones’ leadership. They cited a 2016 court ruling in which where the department lost $10 million: Four women in the department filed suit in 2008 and claimed they were retaliated against when they complained about discrimination and preferential treatment.
Jones says the suit does not reflect his two terms as sheriff, because it was filed in 2008, two years before he was first elected. “It was never about me. It was never about any of my policies or practices. I was never a defendant in that lawsuit," Jones said.
Daniels and Cox say they are proud to run a grassroots campaign with smaller donations making up the roughly $13,000 (not counting loans made by the candidates themselves) that the two have raised combined, according to the Sacramento County elections page. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone to Jones and Fitch.
All four say there would be more transparency if elected, including the purchase and installation of body-cameras.