A Weak Case Monterey County's ex-sheriff weighs in on oversight board proposal with wobbly arguments and off-based assumptions


By Royal Calkins

In a recent opinion piece in the Monterey Herald, former Monterey County Sheriff Mike Kanalakis raises a couple of decent objections to the proposal to create a citizens’ oversight board to help oversee the Sheriff’s Department. It could create some bureaucratic snags and could create some new expenses, he opined.

But the ex-sheriff’s logic veered way off course even before he made those discussion-worthy points. He started off by calling county Supervisor Wendy Root Askew’s proposal “the latest assault on our Sheriff’s Office.” And then, without supportive narrative of any sort, he called it the result of the “ongoing feud she is having with the Sheriff’s Office.” 

Later, without explanation or example, and possibly without much thought, he charges that it’s “personal” for the supervisor. Personal? As in “she’s out to get somebody?” As in the current sheriff, Steve Bernal, “maybe hurt her feelings?” As if she really, really wanted to be a jail guard or something but was turned down? Kanalakis, unfortunately for us mystery fans, doesn’t even take a stab at letting us in on it.

Root Askew has indeed been critical of the Sheriff’s Department but only in a measured, professional way. Like many in the community, she has concerns about how law enforcement operates, especially this Sheriff’s Department. But she’s no flamethrower, no fist in the air. If anything, Kanalakis’s opinion piece is another example of why things need to change. For a good long time the thinking has been that what’s good for law enforcement is good for all of us. The administration of the current sheriff, Steve Bernal, is a clear demonstration of how wrong that has become.

Last year, Voices of Monterey Bay articles prompted the DA’s Office to investigate Bernal’s illegal use of taxpayer money to put on a swanky convention for every other California sheriff. Root Askew and the rest of the five-member Board of Supervisors voted to publicly censure Bernal and to write a letter to the state Fair Political Practices Commission about an issue related to donations to the convention. 

She also has raised solid questions about the Sheriff’s Department budget, questions Kanalakis the Republican would seem to support. Are these what he considers assaults?

I’m guessing some of the assaults of which he speaks might be articles that I have written about Bernal and the boys over the past couple of years. It would take too long to list them but here’s a link to some.

In the process of researching those articles, I came to know some of what Root Askew and the other supervisors know about the Sheriff’s Department. It bothers me therefore that she and the rest of the supervisors haven’t been far more critical of the Bernal administration. County government overall has enabled some awfully shoddy behavior. The stories linked to above aren’t everything.

'It’s four long years between elections and a lot of nonsense can break out in that time.'

I am pleased that Bernal doesn’t plan to seek re-election next year and I would like to think my articles could have had something to do with his decision. The department under Bernal, at least its upper reaches, has been a hot mess.

Sure, there are many professional, hardworking and dedicated men and women working in the department, putting themselves at risk, serving the public with little thanks or fanfare. But for every, say, 100 of those, there are probably a couple of fellows in the upper ranks who should have been cut loose or even prosecuted.  

Among other things, county officials have hushed up cases of instances of ranking fellows allegedly coercing underlings into sexual relations. 

Unlike other counties, this one hasn’t required the sheriff to fully document his frequent flights, sometimes in planes owned by business people who have come under investigation by previous administrations. I could go on.

Remember John Fickas, the serial rapist? He worked for Bernal’s first campaign and was later convicted of sexually assaulting girls and young women. It turns out that a complaint to the Sheriff’s Department about Fickas had gone uninvestigated until the Salinas Police Department began its own probe.

Kanalakis argues that it’s up to the voters to keep the department on track, to vote the rascals out when need be. But it’s four long years between elections and a lot of nonsense can break out in that time.

When Bernal was re-elected four years ago, it was largely because of a stunt pulled by three commanders who were supporting him. While on duty but without evidence, they went public to accuse his opponent and two others of embezzling from the deputy sheriffs’ union. Litigation over that one continues to this day, with Monterey County paying the legal bills for the commanders, even though they have testified that they had been acting merely as political functionaries rather than legitimate keepers of the peace.

Kanalakis complains that the advisory board the supervisors want to set up could become expensive if the group strays from its appointed task. Kanalakis should be complaining instead about how much money the county is spending to protect senior staffers who smeared the opposition under color of authority.

Kanalakis wrote that Root Askew “cannot accept the fact that (Bernal) isn’t just another department head” and suggested that she wants to run it herself. In the process, he demonstrated how little he knows about how hard some supervisors work, Root Askew included, and how much work it is going to take to make the department fully functional again.

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About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

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