Passing the Buck Salinas LULAC calls out supervisors for lack of action on Sheriff’s Department scandals


By Christopher Barrera

The Salinas League of United Latin American Citizens is disappointed by the recent letter that the Monterey County Board of Supervisors issued in response to the many abuses perpetrated by current and former members of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department.

In their Sept. 27 letter, county supervisors claimed the board “had no authority to take any action against” the sheriff’s department. They added: “We recognize the independent authority of the Sheriff, yet are deeply disappointed in the failure of Sheriff Steve Bernal to ensure that his county staff follow County policies.” In short, they simultaneously condemned these actions while also offering no meaningful solutions.  

More importantly, they incorrectly stated that they had no authority to act beyond this letter. In reality, the California Government Code does provide a powerful tool that the board could, and should, use to combat such misconduct: The creation of a sheriff’s oversight board. The key provision of this recent law is that civilian sheriff’s oversight boards possess subpoena power, giving them considerable authority to investigate and expose misconduct by sheriff’s departments.

A quick review of the code disproves the claims of the board. Specifically, when relating to counties, the code gives boards of supervisors the power to, among other things, “establish a sheriff oversight board to assist the board of supervisors with those duties as they relate to the sheriff, either by action of the board of supervisors or through a vote of county residents.”  

This 2020 law specifically authorizes “a county, either by action of the board of supervisors or through a vote of county residents, to establish an office of the inspector general to assist the board of supervisors with these duties as they relate to the sheriff.” Most importantly, this law gives crucial teeth to such an oversight board by authorizing the chair of the oversight board and the inspector general “to issue a subpoena or subpoena … when deemed necessary to investigate a matter within their jurisdiction.”  

It is troubling that neither our Board of Supervisors nor its County Counsel were aware of this recent law, which would provide the oversight necessary to prevent the abuses our citizens have suffered at the hands of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department. 

We understand this is an election year, wherein we will have a new sheriff. Nonetheless, to pass the buck and merely point to this election as the solution is insufficient and unacceptable. After all, many of those who either perpetrated these crimes, or covered them up, are still part of the Sheriff’s Office staff. Further, notwithstanding these elections, we have seen a Sheriff’s Department run amok. If it can happen once, it can happen again.  We cannot allow this to be a possibility.  

It would be unconscionable for the Monterey County Board of Supervisors not to use their legal authority, as prescribed by this 2020 law, to provide safeguards in the form of this oversight board. Accordingly, we demand that the Monterey County Board of Supervisors create this oversight board, taking meaningful action in the wake of the myriad scandalous actions of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department. 

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors’ letter exposes one of two things: Either they were unaware that this important law existed, despite having their own legal team, or knew it existed and chose to ignore it with this fallacious letter. Considering the well-documented abuses at the hands of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department, ranging from the criminal negligence resulting in COVID-19 deaths, to actions that led to Sheriff Bernal being censured, and the substantiated sexual harassment violations, change must occur. 

If the Monterey County Board of Supervisors chooses the status quo over real action in the formation of an oversight board, they are choosing to enable the abusers instead of empowering the victims.

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



Chris Barrera

About Chris Barrera

Christopher Barrera, a life-long resident of Salinas, is president of Salinas LULAC #2055, a Steinbeck Rotarian and a local real estate agent.

2 thoughts on “Passing the Buck Salinas LULAC calls out supervisors for lack of action on Sheriff’s Department scandals

  1. The information below comes from Supervisor Wendy Root Askew, who emailed me after this piece was published to inform us that the supervisors are very much aware of state law that allows them to establish a citizen’s oversight body to help monitor the Sheriff’s Office. Askew proposed such a board earlier this year but the full board opted to wait until after the upcoming election when a new sheriff is in place. The following is taken directly from her email:

    Sharing the meeting notes from when the Oversight Committee referral was considered by the board of supervisors in March 2022:|Text|&Search=Sheriff+oversight

    Here is the summary action: 
Susan Blitch, Assistant County Counsel and Nick Chiulos, Assistant County Administrative Officer, all in person, verbally presented Open for public comments; Cesar Lara, via Zoom, commented. A motion was made by Supervisor Mary L. Adams, seconded by Supervisor John M. Phillips to: Receive a preliminary analysis report in response to Board Referral No. 2022.02 and defer this matter until the new sheriff is elected..
    Roll call vote taken pursuant to Government Code 54953: Supervisor Alejo: AYE Supervisor Phillips: AYE Supervisor Lopez: AYE Supervisor Root Askew: NAY Chair Supervisor Adams: AYE Motion carried 4 to 1

And the full meeting 3/22 meeting can be viewed online:

  2. Once again LULAC lobbies for positive change in Monterey. I was and am appreciative of their successful attempt to diversify the existing power structure in the City of Monterey. Proposing a more equitable voting representation for City of Monterey residents, and asking for a higher expectation from our public servants shows leadership in my opinion. It is my strong belief–having worked for and observed the questionable machinations of local government at the Harbor Division for the City of Monterey–that a higher expectation is needed, and will benefit the vast majority of Monterey County residents. Just not those that put their own agendas ahead of the public that they take an oath to serve.

    Thank you Mr. Calkins for making this conversation possible!

    I hope that the board of supervisors can come together and raise the expectation by exerting positive leadership over our Sheriff’s department, just as I hope that the City of Monterey will show leadership and integrity in the choice for the next Monterey Harbormaster.
    The more calls for a higher expectation from our local government the better.
    Lead on LULAC!

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