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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *