RELATED STORIES: Read all of Royal Calkins’ reporting on Bernal
By Royal Calkins
Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal announced today that he will retire at the end of 2022 rather than compete for another term.
Bernal has been battered by accusations of poor management, conflicts of interests, affairs with employees, failure to address chronic problems in the county jail and other issues. In a text message to department employees early Monday he wrote that later today he would be announcing his retirement.
“For the last 22 years I have been blessed to work in the finest county where I grew up,” he wrote. “Along the way I have worked with some of the most dedicated, talented and hard working professionals who have made a difference in Monterey County.”
Earlier this year, Bernal suffered a rare censure by the Board of Supervisors for misusing public money to put on a convention for the state sheriff’s association. The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office concluded he had broken the law but filed no charges against him, saying he hadn’t understood the governing laws. He also is under investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission in connection with accepting unreported gifts related to one of the alleged affairs.
Bernal could have sought re-election next June, facing a potentially strong field of candidates. By continuing to head the department until the end of his term, he creates the awkward possibility that his replacement will be unable to take over his office for six months unless there is a runoff election in November.
A former sheriff’s commander, vocal Bernal critic Jose Mendoza, has said he planned to announce his candidacy this week. Others already expected to enter the race include sheriff’s deputy Justin Patterson, a son-in-law of one-time candidate Fred Garcia, and Del Rey Oaks Police Chief Jeff Hoyne. Bernal’s retirement announcement will almost certainly create a larger pool of candidates and set off something of a political donnybrook. Law enforcement elections tend to be among the most heated races in all of politics.
From within the department, one of the rumored candidates so far is Capt. Joe Moses, who led a successful but illegal effort to smear Bernal’s last campaign opponent, deputy Scott Davis. Moses, then a commander, and two other commanders trumped up false accusations that Davis, sheriff’s union leader Dan Mitchell and Davis campaign consultant Christian Schneider had embezzled from the deputies’ union. The state Department of Justice declared the allegations nonsense within weeks. A lawsuit over that whole affair is progressing through the courts and is scheduled for an appellate court hearing next month.
UPDATE: Moses put out a news release later Monday declaring that he will officially announce his candidacy on Wednesday.
There is also talk of Davis entering the race for second time. He was considered a serious threat to knock off Bernal in 2018 but his campaign was essentially crushed when Moses and the other commanders launched their specious attack.
Mitchell, who has been involved in a recall campaign aimed at Bernal, said the sheriff’s announced retirement “is to the benefit of the taxpayers of Monterey County because it ends his scandal-filled administration.”
Mitchell, now retired, added, “The department is in desperate need of competent leadership.”
Competing rumors had circulated in recent months about Bernal’s intentions, with supporters within the Republican Party insisting he would run but others within the department reporting various clues that he would not. Bernal is said to have recently purchased property in Tennessee, a favorite retirement spot for law enforcement, but no recorded deed has turned up. He had filed paperwork indicating his intention to run in the upcoming June primary, but he had done almost no fund-raising.
Bernal was a sheriff’s deputy, the department’s lowest rank, when he pulled off a surprising victory over incumbent Scott Miller and took office in 2015 with the help of large contributions of family money tied to South County and ranching interests.
UPDATE: In a videotaped statement later Monday, Bernal created some intrigue by saying there was a “succession plan” within the department, a suggestion that he may plan to leave before the end of his term. Officially the next in line would be Undersheriff John Mineau but several department sources said they understood that his departure is believed to be imminent. In an exchange of emails, Mineau declined to comment on that possibility Monday.
READ MORE: For details on the various controversies that Bernal has faced, here are the links.
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