Deputies’ Union Shoots Back Legal action filed to stop Monterey County Sheriff from continued intimidation

By Mary Duan
and Joe Livernois

The union representing Monterey County’s sheriff’s deputies has fired back against Sheriff Steve Bernal, seeking legal action to stop Bernal and department managers from what they allege is a campaign to smear and intimidate union leaders.

Meanwhile, a group of commanders who were recently voted out of that same union today produced copies of checks they claim show that the campaign of a deputy who’s running for sheriff improperly funneled union funds to that deputy’s campaign manager, thus committing money laundering. That deputy, Scott Davis, told reporters today he’d never seen the checks before and that his signature on them was forged.

It’s that time of the year: insanity time in the race for Monterey County Sheriff. Strap in and follow along.

First, the lawsuit.

The petition for a writ of mandate was filed April 20 by the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of Monterey County on behalf of Daniel Mitchell and Theodore Avery, both deputies in the department. Mitchell is president of the DSA, while Avery is treasurer.

According to their filing, Bernal and the top brass at the Sheriff’s Office harassed Mitchell and Avery after the DSA voted unanimously in September to endorse Davis, Bernal’s opponent, in the June election. Davis, also a deputy, is a member of the Salinas City Council.

Mitchell and Avery say association members received an anonymous email in March that claimed that Mitchell had misused DSA funds.

According to association attorney Isaac Stevens of Sacramento, that email included a confidential personnel record relating to disciplinary proceedings against several association members. But that confidential personnel information—the names of a sheriff’s commander and four detectives who were being investigated for drinking on the job in the so-called “Pizzagate” debacle—went public because it was included in a Public Records Act request that Steven’s firm, Mastagni Holstedt, made with the county. The commander of the investigative unit was subsequently fired, and the other deputies reassigned; the lawfirm made that PRA  because they’re fighting to get their jobs or old assignments back.

Joe Moses

Around the same time, according to the writ petition, one of Bernal’s commanders asked for an audit of the DSA’s finances. Mitchell says he complied, but claims that a couple of the Sheriff’s Office commanders started telling association members that Mitchell was about to be arrested for misuse of association funds. On April 17, Cmndr. Joe Moses held a press conference in front of the DSA offices in Oldtown Salinas, during which he announced that Mitchell and Davis were being investigated.

So far, the state Fair Political Practices Commission is considering whether to open an investigation into the alleged misuse of union funds to pay for Davis’s campaign consultant, Christian Schneider of Pivotal Campaign Services. And the commanders have asked the Department of Justice and Salinas Police to investigate possible criminal acts as well.

The writ petition notes that neither Davis nor Mitchell have been arrested, charged or even interviewed in connection to the alleged crimes. The petition also notes that if the department is investigating the two, such information would be protected from disclosure under the Public Safety Officers’ Procedural Bill of Rights Act. “Thus, holding a press conference to announce to the world allegations of malfeasance would violate (Mitchell’s) rights under POBRA.”

The petition asks the court to rule that the department can no longer interfere and retaliate against the DSA, and it asks the court to expunge the “writing and documents relating to the interrogation and supposed investigation” of Avery and Mitchell from their personnel files.

Moses is the commander in charge of the county jail, and he and other sheriff’s commanders, as well as the investigation’s manager of the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, belonged to what’s known as the DSA’s C-Unit. The C-Unit was ousted from the association during a vote last month by the other two divisions, a move which Moses says happened after he began demanding financial records.

During his press conference, Moses alleged that more than $31,000 in DSA membership dues were being “laundered” into the Davis campaign fund to pay Schneider. 

And about those checks…

In a second press conference that took place this afternoon, also outside the DSA office, Sheriff’s Cmdrs. Mark Caldwell and Archie Warren released photocopies of checks made out to Schneider’s Pivotal Campaign Service that the C-Unit maintains were signed by Mitchell and Scott Davis. While the signature purportedly from Davis is a scrawl, the letters “S” and “D” are visible in the signature.

But Davis maintains he didn’t sign the checks.

Davis, who walked up to the DSA office just before the press conference and was present for its entirety, was asked by KSBW reporter Bianca Beltran to provide her with a signature for comparison’s sake. According to Beltran, he declined.

“I’ve never seen those before in my life,” he said when shown the checks. When Beltran asked if it looked like a forged signature, Davis said, “It’s not mine…it’s total nonsense, total nonsense.”

In all, the checks provided at the conference amount to $13,250.

So the next question is, if Davis didn’t sign the checks and his signature was forged, who did sign them? And will federal officials get involved since bank fraud is a federal crime?

In a prepared statement to the media last week, Bernal said his department is “concerned with the alleged allegations and will await the outcome of any investigation that may come as a result.”

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Joe Livernois

About Joe Livernois

Joe Livernois has been a reporter, editor and columnist in Monterey County for 35 years.