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Statistics do not support lawsuit claims by supporters of sheriff’s challenger

Sheriff John McMahon
Sheriff John McMahon
Courtesy of John McMahon

The recent federal and county investigations into potential wrongdoing by a handful of San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department personnel at the West Valley Detention Center have reinvigorated opponents of Sheriff John McMahon. Supporters of Paul Schrader, a candidate for Sheriff, are trying to use the investigation to show the current sheriff is wasting taxpayer funds by not dealing effectively with rogue deputies whose activity results in lawsuits against the county. The facts do not support their allegations.

Reporter Joe Nelson from the Sun, the largest newspaper in San Bernardino County, tackled this allegation originally in March of this year. According to Nelson’s findings, a little more than 20 percent of the total payouts resulting from lawsuits against the County of San Bernardino involved the Sheriff’s Department. In comparison, settlements involving the San Diego Sheriff’s Department comprised 46 percent of that county’s payouts while in Riverside County, the Sheriff’s Department’s total was 35 percent.

Schrader supporters cried foul at Nelson’s findings. In response, this reporter submitted a California Public Records Act request to the County of San Bernardino to get clarification. David Wert, Public Information officer for the county, provided this response:

“And you are right, the county does have various insurance policies to shield the taxpayers from the cost of settlements and judgments, and oftentimes these insurers have a voice in deciding whether to proceed with a case or settle, and for how much. If an insurer says it won’t cover the county on a particular case if the county goes to court and loses and that they want the county to settle instead, the county takes that into serious consideration. I probably should have mentioned that to Joe, but it slipped my mind.

“The biggest policy is through the California State Association of Counties, but the county does work with other private insurers as well. They don’t cover everything, but they do take some of the sting out of the big ones. Insurance is necessary, of course, because a large settlement or judgment could throw the county or a department for a loop and force cutbacks in services to the public. I’ve attached an old news release that references this dynamic.”

In other words, the county carries insurance policies so that the taxpayer risk is as low as reasonably possible. Total awards do not equal total cost to taxpayers.

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors appointed McMahon to fill the remaining term of then-retiring Sheriff Rod Hoops in December 2012. Schrader, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department employee who has remained a deputy throughout his 30-year law enforcement career, ran for Sheriff of San Bernardino County in 2010. Despite his distant second place finish, supporters felt he should have been appointed as the new sheriff in 2012 but the Board of Supervisors disagreed. Schrader supporters have been making unsubstantiated claims ever since to discredit McMahon.

The current lawsuit by inmates at West Valley Detention Center involves six prisoners. The charges against them range from attempted murder to rape. Some have enhancements for prior prison comments and gang affiliations.

During his campaign, Schrader and his supporters have sided with a variety of lawbreakers, including those from the Sovereign Citizen Movement, the drug legalization crowd, and most recently, these six defendants.

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