Lake County Sheriff-Coroner Falls Under DHS Scrutiny
by Brian Rushing, July 21, 2010
LAKEPORT-- Lake County Sheriff Rodney Mitchell is the subject of a Department of Homeland Security investigation resulting from his misuse of equipment purchased with the department's money. The report number is DHS100622015 and the Investigation ID is #75922.
Last month, parade-goers in Middletown witnessed (and videotaped) Sheriff-Coroner Mitchell leading police dogs, uniformed officers shouting “Mitchell for Sheriff,” SWAT vehicles, and Emergency Service trailers and handing out balloons in support of his campaign. This is a violation of State election law (government code Chapter 5, Section 8314 (1)a and 8314 (2), (3),(4)) and could constitute theft of federal property if the drivers were off-duty or a misappropriation of government funds if they were on-duty.
When asked about the parade, Mitchell said that the officers involved were off-duty. They were, however, in uniform and driving official vehicles. Another concerning detail of this parade was one of the private vehicles involved belonging to Lake County District 2 Supervisor Rob Brown which could represent an illegal partnership between the County supervisor and the Sheriff-Coroner's campaign. Supervisor Brown did not comment as to whether or not he assisted Mitchell in gathering the public resources required for the parade.
On June 22nd The Lake County Board of Supervisors was notified of the election law violation and Supervisor Rob Brown's potential involvement. So far, no internal review has been publicized and the board has taken no visible action.
A Homeland Security representative stated over the phone that using vehicles purchased by federal grants for election purposes is a grave infraction and of “serious concern” to the federal Department.
One witness called the parade “Scary... like European Fascism.” Another said it was “Over the top.”
While this may be true, it's also business as usual. This is not the first time that federal grant money has been misused on Sheriff Mitchell's watch. Earlier this year, sources revealed Lieutenant David Garzoli's misuse of a helicopter purchased with DEA grant money, which ultimately resulted in a crashed helicopter and a bill from the DEA to the Lake County Board of Supervisors for $100,000. While Mitchell said he did not know about this misuse (and subsequently fired Lt. Garzoli), it is widely thought that he and many others did know. Many Sheriff's Officers have reported witnessing Garzoli giving helicopter rides to children at a party, an event that was photographed by Lake County Sheriff's Office second-in-command, Rob Howe. This was all in good humor, presumably, because Howe did not report this misuse of federal equipment.
While applying for another federal grant last month, Mitchell proposed to allow rides for children on future County-owned aircraft. The Lake County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of this, in addition to allowing Mitchell further access to government grants.
In almost 16 years, the Lake County Board of Supervisors has never voted against any of Mitchell's requests for funding.
Mitchell, who almost lost his job in the June 8th California Primary Election, has previously been heavily criticized for misusing his incumbent position in the race – for example, opening an internal investigation against his opponent Francisco Rivero based on the testimony of a known con-artist and using the official Sheriff's website, lakesheriff.com, for campaign purposes. Additionally, a grand jury complaint was recently released alleging that Mitchell threatened to “destroy” employees who considered running against against him in the June election.
In addition to the Lake County Grand Jury and the Department of Homeland Security investigations, Mitchell is also under review from the California Fair Political Practices Commission (http://fppc.ca.gov) and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Lake County Sheriff's Office was featured on CBS's 60 Minutes last year regarding the poor treatment of suspects who are Mexican nationals. Since then, Mitchell's department has become increasingly plagued with scandal, including: writs of Mandamus and Habeas Corpus being filed alleging failure to observe basic human rights in the Lake County Jail, a potentially drunk Sheriff's Deputy wrecking a boat and killing a passenger with no prosecution, a Sheriff's officer jailed for wrecking a squad car while driving under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs (and small amounts methamphetamine, some jail sources say, but no toxicology report was released), a Sheriff's deputy prosecuted and fired for rape and providing narcotics to a minor, and a Sheriff's deputy arrested for transporting illegal weaponry.
The recent run-off election on June 8th put Sheriff-Coroner Candidate Francisco Rivero in the forefront with 38.4% of the county's votes. Mitchell, the incumbent, earned 34.3% percent of the vote while Jack Baxter, a third candidate, earned 27.3% of the votes. Rivero, Cuban by birth, has a background with the San Francisco Police Department and has had a successful career as a mortician. His most effective political tactic has been “walking the county” – meeting people and answering their questions while looking them in the eye. (Mitchell has not made this a part of his campaign). Rivero also has shined in the campaign debates which over the past few months have been remarkably ignored by the stalwarts of Lake County Journalism, the Record-Bee. There is to be a hotly-contested run-off election between Rivero and Mitchell. It is expected that most of Baxter's run-off votes will go to Rivero, as Rivero has named Baxter as his future Under-sheriff, a position that Mitchell has not filled.
The Lake County District Attorney's race saw incumbent Jon Hopkins receive the fewest number of votes. This is likely because of his involvement in the famous “Dinius Trial”: after Sheriff's Deputy Russell Perdock (whom witnesses say had been drinking) crashed his boat at 80 miles per hour killing Lynn Thornton, Hopkins issued the prosecution of Thornton's fiance, Bismarck Dinius, for manslaughter. Dinius was found innocent in a court of law and no further investigation or comment was issued from the DA's office regarding Thornton's death. Hopkins received 30.3% of the county's votes. There will be a run-off election between candidates Doug Rhoades and Don Anderson (37.3% and 32.4%, respectively) in November.