PD Editorial: Putting Lake County sheriff on probation
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 2:56 p.m.
Say this for Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero, there's seldom a dull moment when he's around.
Since taking office a little more than two years ago, Rivero has feuded with the district attorney, county supervisors, his own employees and other law enforcement agencies.
Jail guards sued him over their badges. A local news website sued him for denying it press releases. He once dispatched his entire department to the Napa County line to keep the Hells Angels out of Lake County, prompting a civil rights complaint. He was accused of using excessive force while making an arrest. After hitting a pedestrian on Highway 29, he issued a press release clearing himself of wrongdoing before the CHP completed the official investigation.
Last summer, the colorful sheriff told an interviewer that he's the target of “rednecks and Klansmen,” and, due to death threats, he can't leave his house without a gun.
In most damaging controversy of his relatively brief tenure, Lake County District Attorney Don Anderson challenged Rivero's honesty and integrity.
Anderson concluded that Rivero “did not tell the truth and made material misrepresentations” about an incident in 2008 in which he shot at a man holding a can of pepper spray. Rivero was a deputy sheriff at the time. The finding was prompted by a complaint filed by a deputy in Rivero's office.
As a result, Anderson said, prosecutors are bound by a U.S. Supreme Court precedent to notify criminal defendants that the sheriff has a history of making false statements.
If Rivero is a key witness in a potential case, Anderson told Staff Writer Julie Johnson, “We will have to ask, 'Is it a case worth going forward with? What's a jury going to think?'
For his part, Rivero says he's being unfairly labeled by the district attorney, a one-time political ally, and he says he'll prove it in court.
“I'm very confident that I will be vindicated,” Rivero said. “The truth is the truth, and it always comes out in the end.”
Rivero is entitled to his day in court. But if he doesn't prevail, he should resign.
Lake County is small, rural, poor and a popular destination for pot growers, which has resulted in a disproportionate share of criminal violence.
At a minimum, residents should be able to trust their sheriff's word. Beyond that, they're entitled to competent, professional law enforcement. In Lake County, they've been witness to a sideshow.
When he ran for office, Rivero promised a new direction for a department that already was in turmoil — allegations of theft from the armory, confidential information leaked, marijuana-eradication grant money diverted for helicopter flying lessons, a criminal case against a man whose vessel was struck on Clear Lake by a boat piloted by an off-duty sheriff's deputy. The man was acquitted.
So far, however, Rivero hasn't delivered on his promise to Lake County's voters. He told the Sacramento Bee that he won't seek re-election next year. With Lake County supervisors mulling a no-confidence vote, Rivero now says he's gearing up to run for a second term.
He shouldn't run, and resigning may be his best move. For now, the sheriff is on probation.