Stephen Munkelt: Column missed the point of misconduct case | TheUnion.com

Stephen Munkelt: Column missed the point of misconduct case

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Stephen Munkelt

Mr. Rogers, your column on the district attorney race and Deputy Jason Mackey completely missed the point (Clouseau with a beard, April 13).

The motion on government misconduct was not focused on Mackey's conduct so much as the dishonesty, corruption and incompetence of District Attorney Cliff Newell, Sheriff Keith Royal and the internal affairs investigation by the Sheriff's Office.

Yes, the interest and investigation was kicked off by the unusual statements to Glenn Jennings by Deputy Mackey that he "could not take the stand" to testify on the warrant he wrote, and his request to dismiss the case back in May 2015. It appeared at the time that Mackey must have lied to his sergeant, and presented false information to the court under penalty of perjury. That caused both the DA and eventually the Sheriff to start investigations, as they should in such a situation.

Glenn Jennings' notes from May 27, 2015 outlined the plan of investigation discussed with DA Newell that day. The first step in the plan was to get a copy of Mackey's warrant application from the court file. Jennings and DA investigator Billingsley conducted interviews with several officers on June 1, which raised additional concerns about Mackey's conduct in four or five other cases. So the next step would likely have been to get the documents from the court file.

Because Newell shut down the DA investigation ... and the internal affairs investigators were incompetent and failed to check, three years of court hearings and untold hours were wasted on a non-event.

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Unfortunately, before that could happen Sheriff Royal spoke to Cliff Newell on June 2, and apparently told Newell to stop the DA investigation in favor of an internal affairs process. On June 3, Newell told Jennings he was not to investigate further, so Jennings did not request the court files.

The internal affairs investigation has been described by Royal as "the most extensive in department history." But they never took the obvious step of checking the court files. So it was not until court hearings in March 2018 that Assistant DA Chris Walsh discovered that the court's copy of Mackey's affidavit was different from the one in the Sheriff's records. The court version was accurate, even though the Sheriff's version was not.

Defense attorneys cannot access sealed court files. Only law enforcement and the DA have that ability. Because Newell shut down the DA investigation — which planned to get the court's copy — and the internal affairs investigators were incompetent and failed to check, three years of court hearings and untold hours were wasted on a non-event.

But the evidence in court did not end there.

Uncontradicted evidence also showed the following: After Newell stopped the investigation he came back to Jennings later and asked him to sign a document stating that "after a full investigation" Deputy Mackey was cleared. Jennings refused to sign because it was not true.

Even later, in October 2015, Newell called Jennings into his office and, according to Jennings' testimony, told him "You pissed off the Sheriff, so you either resign or I will terminate you." Jennings resigned. Again, this evidence was uncontradicted.

So the "starkest difference" between Newell and Jennings is not their take on Mackey, as your column suggests. It is that Newell does the bidding of the sheriff rather than perform as an independent constitutional officer. And that Jennings is ethical and honest.

Stephen A. Munkelt is an attorney who lives in Nevada City.