Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones took to Facebook last week to blast this newspaper over what he considers unfair coverage of his misdeeds and failures.
The lame-duck politician, who lost a Congressional bid in 2016 and says he won't run for reelection, accused The Sacramento Bee of pursuing "sensationalist agenda-driven journalism." Jones lamented the need for "printed media that is fair, insightful and fact-driven."
Hmm. Here's a sampling of the fairness, insight and fact we've served up in service to The Bee's readers over the last few years:
• When court documents revealed accusations that Jones made unwanted sexual advances towards a female deputy earlier in his career, we exposed them. Tosca Olives, who worked with Jones when she was in her twenties, said his creepy behavior included "rubbing her shoulders while she took work-related phone calls," according to The Bee. Olives alleged that Jones, a married man, engaged in sexual behavior such as kissing her and reaching under her shirt. In all, she alleged more than 30 inappropriate incidents between 2003 and 2005. Jones denied the charges. He later claimed Olives' accusations had been discredited by two judges, but PolitiFact rated his claim as "false." No judge ever ruled on the merits of Olives' accusations, though Olives' claims were excluded from a larger lawsuit against the sheriff's department for technical reasons.
• When Jones barred Inspector General Rick Braziel from the sheriff's department in 2018, making it impossible for Braziel to carry out his oversight duties, we kept Sacramento informed. This month, when some on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors tried to sneak through the appointment of a new inspector general without public input, The Bee blew the lid off of the plan.
• When Sacramento County was forced to settle a $100 million lawsuit over "dangerous, inhumane and degrading conditions" in which inmates were subjected to "harsh, prolonged, and undue isolation," we covered it. The awful conditions in the jail "included failing to provide adequate mental health care to jail inmates; failing to screen and provide services for inmates with disabilities and medical problems; and chronic custody officer shortages," according to a Bee story by Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks.
• When Sheriff Jones decided to turn his poorly-run jail into an exploitative reality TV circus with a Netflix show called "Jailbirds," The Bee investigated. Reporter Ryan Sabalow found that Jones' deputies "watched fights break out, allowed inmates to incriminate themselves without their attorneys present and demanded editorial control of the reality series, even as the show's producers amped up the drama in the name of entertainment." One inmate told The Bee a fight scene in the show was "damn near staged."
• When Jones refused to release records pertaining to misbehavior by other deputies in his department, The Bee and The Los Angeles Times sued him in court. In June, a judge ordered Jones to comply with state law and release records related to "deputies accused of dishonesty, sexual assault or uses of force that killed or seriously injured citizens," reported The Bee's Sam Stanton. When, despite the court decision, Jones continued to drag his feet, this editorial board blasted him for wasting $100,000 in taxpayer money due to court-imposed fines and legal costs.
Okay, so maybe it's not hard to see why the sheriff feels a bit sensitive about The Bee. But protecting the delicate feelings of people like Jones is not – and will never be – the job of this newspaper. When the elected officials abuse their power or fall short of their promises, we keep them in check, regardless of their political leanings.
Jones is right about one thing: We do have an agenda. It's this: to ask tough questions, print the truth and hold the powerful to account.
Jones attacked The Bee in response to news that The McClatchy Co., the parent company of The Bee, is facing serious financial trouble ahead due to pension and debt obligations. Yes, these are tough times for local newspapers. But we're not easily discouraged – we're journalists.
We've been at this since 1857 and we plan to keep going for another 150 years or more, come hell or high water. Long after the stain of Scott Jones' regrettable tenure as sheriff has been rinsed from our memories, The Bee will be here telling the stories that matter to this community.
The reason is simple: We owe it to our readers. You count on us to shine a light on corruption and failure, and to lift up our community's voices. We take this responsibility seriously. Our work is for you, and only possible because of you.
So if you value truth, clarity and accountability in the face of petty would-be tyrants like Sheriff Jones, there's never been a better time to subscribe to your local newspaper.