This month, letters were sent to Acting Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, the California Department of Justice and Fair Practices Commission, Tulare County Counsel Kathleen Bales-Lange, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors and County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau, Tulare County Human Resources Department Director Rhonda Sjostrom, Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward, and the Tulare County Civil Grand Jury.
According to the letters, the Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield represent “a peace officer currently employed by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department” with a complaint about senior law enforcement members in the department who “have been and continue to participate in an illegal lottery” – a subject covered in our March 6 issue.
The letters, however, also raised a new allegation, claiming an unnamed peace officer “is tired of the blatant violation of Tulare County policies prohibiting political activity while on duty.”
“Our client is very, very concerned to the point (he or she is) looking around to see if people are following at certain locations,” said attorney Marguerite Melo.
Since the decision was made to not disclose the identity of the client making the allegations, this article will refer to the client as “Deputy Pat.” Pat has been with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department for about ten years.
“There’s a lot of rules being broken,” Deputy Pat told the Voice, alleging raffle ticket sales were conducted in the sheriff’s office. “I was approached about a raffle. The ticket sales were for guns for the benefit of the election of Sheriff Boudreaux. I’ve seen it twice at my workplace.”
Deputy Pat said no to buying a ticket. “I knew I was not supposed to do it. I said no and I didn’t get asked again.” The deputy claims to have faced “retaliation problems” as a result of not participating. “Because my support is not what it should be, there’s now an investigation into something I didn’t do. I’m innocent of everything.” Pat wouldn’t elaborate other than to say, “it was not work-related.”
Deputy Pat was asked what outcome was sought by filing the complaint.
“My personal opinion is Sheriff Boudreaux is doing illegal stuff,” Pat responded. “I want him to be removed from the election because he violated federal, state and local laws. I’m not looking for money. I’m looking for the right thing to be done. If he was not in the race, the problems would all go away.”
Pat’s attorneys offered a slightly different perspective.
“We’ve never accused Boudreaux of doing anything,” said Melo. “Our concern is about the top management of the department.”
Deputy Pat claimed to be “neutral” about whom to vote for before, but has since approached the Dave Whaley campaign to offer support. Neither Melo nor her partner, John Sarsfield, said which candidate they support for sheriff, but both of them said they signed Boudreaux’s petition to be on the ballot.
Deputy Pat is not the only person coming forward with a complaint about the sheriff’s department, according to Sarsfield. “We have multiple clients and each has a unique issue,” he said, adding that four people have come forward so far.
“What they want to see is for the district attorney’s office to do their job,” said Melo.
“Our clients are very familiar with what the district attorney can and cannot do and they would normally investigate matters like this,” Sarsfield said. “The only reason they’re not is because they don’t have the stomach for a high-profile case.”
Are these clients looking for financial compensation?
“At this point, no,” Melo replied. “At this time, they are enjoying the work they are doing. This is not just a job. This is a career for these officers.
“They want the behavior to stop immediately,” she continued. “They want the retaliation to stop immediately. They are not interested in Boudreaux winning or losing. They have the right to be allowed to conduct their work in peace without political pressure.”
On that, the clients, attorneys and Boudreaux apparently agree. “We want people to come to work and not have to worry about politics,” said Boudreaux.
Information was sent to all department personnel about politics and the workplace, said Assistant Sheriff Greg Wright, who added that he followed up with two emails to all sheriff’s department employees, reiterating the sheriff’s policy to keep politics out of the office, and to report any violations.
The document, called “Restrictions on Political Activities of County Officers and Employees,” was sent to everyone in the sheriff’s department by the county human resources department last October. It was sent again on March 14 with the following message from Boudreaux:
“I am asking that each of you take a few moments and read the attached memo that was previously provided to all county employees. While any political race at the local, state or national level can at times evoke emotion and passion, it is our individual and agency responsibility to refrain from political activities while at work. Should you feel there is a violation of the policies listed within the attached document please contact your immediate supervisor.”
The document, which lists state and federal laws dealing with politics and the workplace, as well as a Tulare County ordinance, starts with the following summary: “County officers and employees may express their political opinions and engage in political activities, but must live with some restrictions imposed by state and, sometimes, federal law. In general, this means that county officers and employees must ensure that when they engage in political activities, they do so only in their individual capacities, while not on duty, and avoid even the appearance that they are speaking or acting for the County of Tulare.”
“We are really taking great strides in making sure that people understand that politics on duty is not allowed,” Boudreaux said. “Any report we are given is passed along to HR and they take care of investigating it.”
Two cases involving complaints about the political campaign went to Human Resources, according to Assistant Sheriff Robin Skiles.
“HR has taken a look at anything that comes through in that regard,” said Boudreaux. “Those cases have been determined unfounded.”
Sarsfield was looking into another issue, the accuracy of the claim on the gun raffle flier that stated the odds of winning. “They sold 2,600 tickets,” he said, adding that the flier promised the odds were one in 500.
“There was a drawing for each gun,” said Boudreaux, who noted that with the tickets drawn for each of the 11 guns, the odds of winning were half of what was advertised – one in 236.
When asked if tickets were sold during work hours, Boudreaux responded as if it were a trick question. “We work 24 hours a day, but that doesn’t mean the tickets were sold during work time,” he said. “I don’t have any information that it took place on duty other than the opposition saying so.”
He added later, “You have a lot of information coming from the opposition.”
The arguments backing and disputing the allegations that the gun raffle was illegal were covered in the gun raffle article in our March 6 issue, but Sarsfield raised them during an interview to offer his unique perspective, as the writer of the state’s statute while working in the office of State Senator Bruce McPherson, R-Santa Cruz.
“It was never intended for political purposes,” he said, adding that the statute amends the state’s gambling laws to allow nonprofit organizations, such as Boys & Girls Clubs, PTA’s and churches to raise needed funds.
“It’s really important that we understand that we contacted a variety of agencies that are confident we operated legally,” Boudreaux said, before reiterating the message of his campaign.
“My position is that we’ve been productive, with new and innovative ideas that will take us to the future,” he said. “Things are running very, very smoothly and we have a lot of good men and women. I’m proud of the fact we’re running a campaign based on our vision of the future.”