George Boardman: Will it be business as usual with new sheriff? | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: Will it be business as usual with new sheriff?

George Boardman
Columnist

There are a couple of disturbing aspects surrounding the saga of Nevada County Sheriff's deputy Jason Mackey, the narcotics detective who says he corrected an error in a warrant that didn't get corrected.

The first was the decision of District Attorney Cliff Newell to call off his investigation of Mackey's conduct when Sheriff Keith Royal decided to conduct his own internal affairs investigation.

Since the ability of Newell's office to successfully prosecute narcotics cases hinges to a great extent on the investigative work of the sheriff's Narcotics Task Force, you would think the district attorney would want some reassurance the cases brought to his office by the sheriff would stand up in court.

Then there's the aspect of the fox guarding the chicken coup when the sheriff investigates the conduct of his own personnel.

Then there’s the aspect of the fox guarding the chicken coup when the sheriff investigates the conduct of his own personnel.

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Mackey became the center of unwanted attention when he made a mistake is a search warrant issued in 2015, which triggered the dismissal of a narcotics case. That led local defense attorneys to suggest that several cases involving Mackey were tainted. They've been encouraged by former Assistant District Attorney Glenn Jennings, who is seeking to replace Newell as district attorney and has questioned his professional conduct.

As you would expect, attorneys representing defendants in drug cases have jumped on the incident, seeking to portray Mackey as a dirty cop who admittedly used bad information from an informant in a search warrant. The attorneys' narrative has been aided by the behavior of the DA, sheriff's office, and possibly the courts.

Mackey testified recently that he corrected the error in the original warrant, but the corrected version was filed under seal and not discovered until three years later by Jennings' replacement.

Apparently the people Royal assigned to make the "most extensive (internal affair investigation) in department history" didn't bother to ask the DA to search the sealed court records, and the Newell wasn't curious enough to have someone check the court files. Then there's the issue of how Mackey ended up with an uncorrected version of the warrant after he corrected it.

The second disturbing aspect of this case is that Mackey testified he received no training before being assigned to the Narcotics Task Force. The defective search warrant was the first one he filed after joining the task force, and Mackey testified his errors were rooted in inexperience and the stress of learning a new job on the fly.

Then there was the mentoring Mackey received on the job. The deputy testified that his senior officer on the force, Detective Mark Hollitz, faulted Mackey's lack of experience and made it clear he didn't believe Mackey belonged there.

As it turned out, Hollitz wasn't an exemplary supervisor. Hollitz left the department in 2017 weeks before accusations surfaced that he had sexual relations with an informant. The DA later moved for dismissal of 13 cases because of Hollitz's alleged misconduct.

That raises another question: Was anybody monitoring Hollitz's work? It takes quite a while to put together 13 tainted cases.

All of this raises the issue of governance in the sheriff's office, which has generated a steady stream of lawsuits in recent years alleging misconduct and even constitutional issues. Testimony in these cases does little to instill confidence in management of the office.

The most recent case was resolved last week, when a jury rejected a claim from Yvonne Evans, a former civilian employee of the sheriff's office, and her husband, retired Lt. Bill Evans. They alleged in their suit that she was fired and falsely accused on theft, and he was forced to take early retirement in retaliation for a claim by Yvonne Evans that she was being sexually harassed by then Undersheriff Richard Kimball.

The county's outside counsel, Carl Fessenden, stated during the trial that "Yvonne was the person responsible for the money in the jail — no one else. The conclusion reached was that she lost, misplaced, misused or failed to account for $13,000 in cash."

Despite that, the DA and the sheriff's office couldn't put together a case fast enough to beat the one-year statute of limitations for the four misdemeanors Yvonne Evans was charged with. They even had trouble figuring out how much money was involved. She was originally charged with stealing $13,000, a figure that was later raised to more than $17,000. Who was monitoring her work?

The Evans' attorney, Kerry Schaffer, also represented Kathleen Soga, a former employee of the sheriff's office who accused chief fiscal and administrative officer Rolf Kleinhans of harassing behavior that culminated in a threat on her life after she accused her boss of unethical practices. The county settled the case for $250,000 in October 2016 without admitting guilt, and also racked up $236,000 in attorneys' fees.

The children of former county jail inmate Josha Hightower-Malta are also suing the county after their father died of an apparent drug overdose in 2016. Where did he get the drugs? Officials claim it was from a fellow inmate who managed to smuggled 11 grams of heroin into the lockup. This case will probably generate another big fee for an outside attorney representing the county.

Finally, local attorneys sued the sheriff for violating the constitutional rights of inmates by making it difficult for them to meet with their attorneys. Royal lost the case at trial, a decision that was upheld by the state's Third District Court of Appeals.

We will have a new sheriff no later than November, so it's possible a new chapter in law enforcement will begin. But two of the three candidates to replace Royal are veterans of the office: Lt. Bill Smethers, who ran the Narcotics Task Force in 2015, and Capt. Shannan Moon, who ran the county jail in 2016.

The third candidate, former Grass Valley police chief John Foster, claims he's the only candidate "to bring much-needed change to the sheriff's office," including "effective monitoring and absolute accountability." He should elaborate on that at Thursday's League of Women Voters forum at the Rood Center.

I think it's also fair to ask Smethers and Moon if it will be business as usual if either is elected.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.

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