Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal to leave office Departure follows rare censure by county supervisors for misusing public money

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.”

He added, “These are definitely tough times for law enforcement. I believe we have the talent and great leadership here to continue improving our mission into the future.”

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.

Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter or leave a comment below.

SUPPORT NONPROFIT JOURNALISM

GET OUR FREE WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

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.

3 thoughts on “Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal to leave office Departure follows rare censure by county supervisors for misusing public money

  1. Steve you need to apologize to the residents of Monterey County and the dedicated employees of the Sheriff’s Office. You don’t deserve the title of “Sheriff”. Your legacy will be remembered for decades into the future. Shame on you!

  2. Sources tell me Steve’s right hand man (Undersheriff John Mineau) is no where to be seen. In the meantime, the inmates at the jail are going on their 4th day without food and they are now refusing their medication. Who is overseeing the jail? The Undersheriff should also be held accountable for enabling Steve and for his failure to act. Shame on you for NOT having the courage to “speak truth to power” when it mattered. Do you recall our conversations? Have some dignity and resign.

    And lastly, the jail is in Supervisor Luis Alejo’s District. What are you doing about this sir? The community is watching.

  3. Mr Officer Mendoza, you have nerves to talk about apologies. I would like to add in December of 2000 are the parts of a river you had offered Permanent housing to 4 woman who’s Shelters where being demolished buy Smith & Inlet Construction Company. This was also done on video wish I could play for as many people needing to see. You never came back to stay or to reflect on what offer you put on the table for us and might I would like to add you have never offered even an apology. And 20 minutes later another officer by the name of Mendez came and let this ladies know that there was no available housing and what you said you promised on video that we would have permanent housing and you would be back it is a year later still I reside in the same place where you promise for women whom you offered on video permanent housing. This is not false news this is truth. December 2020 covid-19 was murdering people left and right Governor has stated that we were in shelter in place and yet your officers as well as yourself came alongside Smith and in light construction company. Despite cdc’s guidelines you failed to comply what does stay in place orders shelter-in-place orders and you placed a lot of people including your community my community and other communities at risk for covid-19 and other sicknesses that can also come along with being without shelter your officers make their own laws. Shelter in place CDC guidelines stated not to remove homeless encampments because it will place other communities at risk of a widespread. This is a deadly disease a year later we are still under shelter-in-place. And once again I would like to add your fellow officers alongside with an in light company are still UN EDUCATED WITH UP TO DATE LAWS…. your FELLOW officer think a Badge is LAW and govern ABOVE the CDC guidelines didn’t you Mock l to protect. 8 denture offices take an oath to protect not picking choosing to protect. Just because I live out here on the river doesn’t mean I come from a bad background. My great-grandfather was a s star admiral and the United States Navy. So don’t think that I’m not educated I also am current student at UCSC I will have my associates in 2022. So don’t think that I’m not educated. At lest I have opportunity to know My rights as well as few of you comrades. Law is Law. And you should practice what preach and stop Teaching the Oath is a Joke to you…

Leave a Reply to Monike Tone Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *