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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Corruption and Sacramento Sheriff's Deputy Jeffrey Mitchell

Sacramento Sheriff's Deputy Jeffrey Mitchell was allegedly gunned down October 27, 2006 while on a traffic stop in Sacramento County. Many insiders close to the investigation believe it was a suicide, but they won't say so publicly.

One of the things the Sacramento Sheriff's Department ("SSD") has never told the public--even though the public has the right to know because it's relevant and newsworthy--is that Mitchell was arrested for theft in El Dorado County just 11 days before he died. There's a record of that arrest, and it's been accessible to SSD and the media for the last 9 years; but it was never mentioned in the news stories.

Information about the arrest should be publicized, because it will give the public a more complete version of the events and can help get at the truth about what really happened. When SSD asks for the public's help in solving a crime, it's insincere of them to leave out a piece of information as significant as that.

The Investigators' Secret Theory

Senior officers at SSD have told me that many closest to the investigation believe that Mitchell committed suicide but staged his death as a confrontational killing.

The investigators' theory is that Mitchell became despondent after being arrested for theft and later learning that an internal affairs investigation had begun concerning the incident. Investigators speculate that Mitchell likely feared that the media spotlight would soon be on him and that he would ultimately be fired, lose his retirement benefits (including for his son and wife), and never be hired as a cop anywhere after that. It was also a potential source of embarrassment, humiliation and a matter that, once publicized, could have negatively impacted others in his family. As we have seen for the last 9 years, Mitchell also had a good reason to believe that the arrest would never have been publicized if he died before a prosecutor took the case to court.

The Arrest Report and Likely Outcome   (see the arrest report here)

The arrest report shows that deputy Mitchell was charged with petty theft after allegedly entering a Raley's store, stealing electric hair clippers and then running away from the store to his truck before being confronted by the store’s security guard. The guard said he chased Mitchell to Mitchell’s truck and that Mitchell then handed the clippers to the guard, said “I’m leaving,” and then fled in the truck. It’s not clear how close the guard was running behind Mitchell during the chase, but it’s legally significant because it raises the possibility that Mitchell could have been charged with robbery after a prosecutor reviewed the report.  

Either way, that incident likely would have ended Mitchell’s career as a peace officer, and a criminal conviction would have sealed that fate. Thefts are “crimes of dishonesty” that can be used to impeach the credibility of a convicted person's testimony. Since deputy sheriffs are expected to testify regularly, Mitchell’s actions at Raley's compromised an essential function of his job. And even with no theft conviction, an administrative hearing could have resulted in a decision that Mitchell's actions were grounds for termination.

Approaching Publicity, Pressure, Embarrassment, End of Career

Mitchell knew that the incident was about to explode for him, and he knew that very soon the criminal proceedings against him were going to get media publicity. After all, when a deputy sheriff anywhere in California is arrested, charged with a crime, and appears at court, the media wants to cover that story, and the public wants to know about it. There was simply no way Mitchell could have avoided that publicity and the fallout, and it’s a sufficient reason to cause the kind of severe depression that could lead someone to take his own life. This is all relevant to the theory that Mitchell committed suicide. It's also possible that Mitchell had kleptomania, and studies show that  kleptomaniacs have higher than average suicide rates. 

Nearly a Decade of Cover-up

For the last 9 years, SSD has only offered the public one theory of events--i.e., that Mitchell was killed on duty by someone else. It's not clear whether SSD's main goal of omitting the theft charge and suicide theory has been to protect Mitchell's good name, spare Mitchell's son and widow embarrassment or whether the omission has protected the flow of benefits that might not be available if a viable theory held that Mitchell committed suicide. Another possible motive for keeping the theft charge and suicide theory secret from the public is that it would cause a blemish on the department to speculate openly that one of its deputies might have perpetrated the theft and final act of fraud

Why the Media Says it Won’t Publicize the Arrest

Whenever I’ve spoken with members of the local press about the incident and asked why they don’t report the theft or suicide theory, the common excuses have been:
  • we wouldn't report it unless one of the investigators or a sheriff's official were willing to talk to us and agree that one of their theories is suicide--we'd need a verifiable source; and
  • the theft arrest isn’t relevant unless a credible law enforcement source tells us it is.  
Why the Media Really Hasn’t Publicized the Arrest

Although cooperation between the media and law enforcement is essential to each of those entities, a disservice to the public can occur when their relationships get too cozy. Law enforcement’s interest with the media is to be portrayed in a positive light and have its version of events be reported. The media’s interest in staying on good terms with law enforcement officials is to be able to get scoops, interviews, and a routine flow of information from inside sources.

Local law enforcement agencies and major Sacramento media entities have a long history of coziness. That’s not to say the local media won’t occasionally be critical of local law enforcement. For instance, when there’s a significant case of police misconduct that likely couldn’t escape eventual publicity, or when one local news agency takes a risk and is critical first, it would be hard for another agency to ignore the story without appearing biased or uninformed. But when there’s a choice of either publicizing something local law enforcement doesn’t want publicized or doing them a favor and withholding a story that otherwise has a good chance of never coming out, that’s when the cozy relationship makes a difference.

The local media also has incentive not to publicize Deputy Mitchell's arrest because doing so now would raise questions about why that arrest wasn’t reported right away. Some people would ask, "How could they have missed it back then?" 

Whenever any currently employed full-time peace officer is arrested for theft, that’s always a matter of public concern; and the public expects both law enforcement and the media to publicly report such arrests promptly. It’s the media’s and law enforcement’s business to know when an arrest like Mitchell’s occurs, and their failure to report it in a timely manner--even before Mitchell’s death--was either a case of dropping the ball or collaboration or both. Keeping it from the public for 9 years, however, is a case of corruption

In spite of being made aware of all the things mentioned here many years ago, the corporate media (including the Sacramento Bee) has never reported: 1) Mitchell's arrest, 2) the newsworthy coincidence about the timing of his arrest and death, 3) the internal investigation, 4) the pending prosecution, 5) the idea that Mitchell might have feared publicity, humiliation, the end of his career, and the end of his accrued benefits, 6) the fact that the small amount of DNA found on the trigger (as mentioned in the local stories), which was measurably unhelpful and insignificant, could have simply been from letting someone else handle the gun (such as at the range), 7) the fact that the only evidence that can suggest there was a struggle is also evidence consistent with a theory of suicide, 8) the issue of benefits and how a suicide would have impacted that, or 9) the issue of why the department might have incentive to keep the foregoing quiet. That's a lot of stuff to leave out.

In any event, there's clearly been more to the story all along, and the public has the right to know about the additional facts.

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