Secret Monterey County inquiry clears sheriff of one thing or another

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By Royal Calkins

Two current and one past Monterey County Sheriff’s Office employees who were involved in submitting or approving falsified time cards in connection with a state sheriff’s convention say they were never questioned during an official investigation that cleared Sheriff Steve Bernal of any hanky panky in connection with the event.

One veteran deputy who worked as a driver during the 2019 conference said his supervisor told him to turn in his hours as “jail overtime” even though his work had nothing to do with the jail and occurred during his normal hours.

“I kept expecting to get docked for the fake OT but I guess what they were worried about was how things looked, not how things actually were,” that deputy said. “A lot of us were in the same boat. Don’t people get in trouble for faking their timecards?”

The investigation by the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office seemingly was set off by a Voices of Monterey Bay report on the annual California State Sheriffs’ Association 2019 conference hosted by Bernal in Monterey.

After the event, various law enforcement personnel complained that several command officers appear to have been paid merely for golfing and drinking with out-of-county sheriffs while some of their spouses enjoyed complimentary transportation provided by on-duty deputies paid through a large but poorly scrutinized account, the jail overtime budget.

A report on the DA’s investigation reportedly found no evidence of wrongdoing but county officials have refused to make it public. It was presented to the county Board of Supervisors in December, according to an account in the Monterey County Weekly, but neither the board, the DA’s Office or the County Administrative Office has deigned to share the findings with the public.

Assistant DA Berkley Brannon declined to respond to questions from Voices about the investigation Thursday except to say it was being withheld. He cited a section of the state Government Code that allows — but does not require — law enforcement agencies to keep most of their work secret even when there is no expressed reason to do so.

"They all looked nice in their matching golf shirts but public safety was taking a beating that weekend.” Anonymous

The first complaint about the event came from then-Sgt. Dan Mitchell, a union activist who was later forced into medical retirement. Mitchell is currently involved in an effort to recall Bernal from office.

In an email to then-County Administrative Office Lew Baumann in June 2019, Mitchell reported that he had been approached by several fellow union members who had worked at the sheriff’s conference but who had been instructed not to reflect that on their time cards. Instead, he told the top county official, they had been instructed to falsely report their hours as overtime worked in the jail.

“I was never interviewed about CSSA (California State Sheriff’s Association) at all,” Mitchell said by email Thursday. “I didn’t even know there was an investigation. I don’t know of anyone being questioned.

“I started the whole inquiry with an email to Lew Baumann. I would think I would get talked to.”

Another employee, who asked not to be identified, was in fact assigned to jail duty at the time. He told his superiors that he was concerned the jail budget was being artificially drained.

“It also bothered me that while the commanders and above were out playing golf on duty, someone was having to fill in for them. They all looked nice in their matching golf shirts but public safety was taking a beating that weekend.”

Other concerns raised by sheriff’s employees after the convention included the use of a large stockpile of county-owned ammunition for a gun manufacturer’s sales demonstration and the gifting of a couple of commemorative guns to the sheriff that he appears not to have reported on his formal gift forms.

Since shortly after the conference, Bernal and his top command staff have declined to entertain questions from this reporter and have declined to comment on even the most routine of questions.

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Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. For the past couple of years, he has produced a local news and commentary blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

One thought on “Secret Monterey County inquiry clears sheriff of one thing or another

  1. Clearly, Royal, you’ve hit on something that the county doesn’t want to be in the open. We can only speculate about what’s going on. The only way to find out what that is would be full disclosure. Having it swept under the rug would be a disservice to county taxpayers.Keep after them, Royal. And thanks for keeping an eye on this.

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