Sherriffs vehicles | Adobe Stock Photo
By Royal Calkins
Should the public help pay for private events organized by Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal, gatherings such as a 2019 campaign fundraiser and a sheriffs’ conference that included golf outings and expensive target practice?
Apparently in response to a Voices article last month, the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office has been questioning Sheriff’s Department employees about overtime payments to several sheriff’s deputies who drove guests to and from events during the California State Sheriffs Association annual conference last spring in Monterey. Several Sheriff’s Department employees have confirmed that at least some of the drivers received overtime pay while others received straight time.
The California State Sheriffs Association is a private, nonprofit organization that provides training and political lobbying for elected sheriffs from each county in California. Its executive director, Carmen Green, who attended the Monterey conference, referred questions to Bernal’s office, which has had nothing to say on the matter.
Most conference activities were on the Peninsula but Voices has learned that deputies using county-owned vans also ferried sheriffs and others to the Swiss Rifle Club in the hills east of Gonzales. There, representatives of the SIG Sauer gun manufacturing operation provided various weapons for the Sheriffs to test, using ammunition provided by the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department. The department’s internal affairs unit reportedly is investigating that expenditure.
According to two department employees, some of Sheriff Bernal’s top aides are attempting to blame the ammunition expense on a sergeant although it seems unlikely that the department’s ammo could have been used without the consent of higher-ups. Also reportedly under review is the decision to send a portion of the department’s SWAT team to the rifle range to provide security for the gun-testing sheriffs.
A photo posted on his Facebook page shows former Monterey County Sheriff Mike Kanalakis shooting what appears to be an automatic Gatling gun during that event. He could not be reached for comment this week.
A week before the conference, several on-duty Sheriff’s Department staffers attended a Bernal campaign fund-raiser held during working hours over several days at Tehama Country Club. Several command officers golfed and drank with campaign contributors, including representatives of the cannabis industry whose operations are partly regulated by the Sheriff’s Department.
The Sheriff’s Department regularly provides security for private events such as Pebble Beach golf tournaments but the event organizers are required to pay for the services. In recent weeks, department officials have declined to provide any details about how those costs are calculated.
As Voices reported Jan. 23, former sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Mitchell was forced to take medical retirement after raising questions about the overtime arrangements for the drivers used for the sheriffs’ conference.
Mitchell, who was president of the Deputy Sheriffs Association at the time, said he questioned the transportation arrangements during a staff meeting and in a letter to the County Administrative Office. He had sustained a stroke the previous year and had returned to duty shortly before the events in question. He said some deputies were concerned that they might get in trouble for being paid for work outside their normal duties.
“I just wanted to know what was going on both in my capacity as a sergeant in the jail and as the president of the DSA,” Mitchell said. “No one would give me an answer.”
Instead, he was demoted to deputy and then dismissed shortly afterward.
Mitchell and others noted that while department staff members were away from their regular jobs to drive vans, to protect sheriffs or to golf with campaign contributors, other staffers had to fill in for them, potentially creating additional salary expenses or creating staff shortages.
Others involved with the Deputy Sheriffs Association also submitted written questions to the department and to the District Attorney’s Office last spring and received no response. One letter said deputies had been told to wear polo shirts bearing emblems from the sheriff’s department and the sheriffs’ group during the conference.
The County Administrative Office, Bernal, Assistant Sheriff John Mineau and John Thornburg, the Sheriff’s Department public information officer, all declined to comment for the Voices article of Jan. 23. Thornburg didn’t respond to an additional inquiry Wednesday.
Calls to the DA’s office prompted an email saying simply, “Our office has no comment on this matter. Thank you.”
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