Could the saying “pride comes before the fall” be a premonition of what’s to come for Riverside Sheriff Chad Bianco? Will his cocky arrogance result in more missteps that may one day result in his setback or failure in the coming six years? No one knows for sure, but we can certainly bet money that he doesn’t think so. Bianco thinks he’s untouchable and may even be aspiring to higher office. To that pipe dream I say, spare us, please.
When Bianco took the oath for his second term in early January, it was clear he believed the hype offered by those who sing his praises. He thinks he is entering his second term with some kind of electoral mandate – an obvious indication he is not too good at math. Sure he received 60% of the vote in the June 2022 primary, but when only 28% of registered voters cast ballots in the election, I’d say his idea of being overwhelmingly elected by some mythical majority is farcical.
The unfortunate reality for Riverside County residents, however, is that Bianco was reelected despite a running list of missteps, misdeeds, mismanagement, misappropriations, his blatant ties to right wing extremism and his failed promises.
In addition, the timing of his reelection could not be worse because a change in state law now entitles him to a bonus of two years in office.
Last September, Governor Newsom signed AB 759. The legislation rescheduled elections for sheriffs and district attorneys in most California counties from a midterm election cycle to align with presidential election years. The new law only impacts “general law counties” like Riverside and the majority of California’s 58 counties that must adhere to state law regarding the number, duties and elections of county elected officials. San Bernardino County, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a handful of other counties, on the other hand, are “charter counties” and thus exempted from this new rule. This is because charter counties have a limited degree of “autonomy or home rule” authority regarding elections, etc.
Of course, the self aggrandizing Bianco, probably sensing the reality of what may become of his career after a presidential election year when voter turnout will certainly be higher than it was in 2022 and recognizing that such a higher turnout will probably not be to his advantage, did not miss an opportunity to sound off on Facebook about the change stating, “[Our] out of touch extreme left legislators are under the misguided belief that the general public dislikes law enforcement as much as they do.”
No, Chad. We just dislike you.
Just because the next election for sheriff in Riverside County is pushed two years from 2026 to 2028 doesn’t mean we need to suffer under his stewardship until 2028. Bianco made plenty of missteps during his first term and there is no reason to think his second will be any different. So what will happen if he pushes the boundaries too far?
Though the options for his removal are limited, there are options.
Can he be removed before his term expires?
For the most part, county sheriffs basically operate with autonomy, so what can be done about a sheriff of Bianco’s ilk who flaunts his authority while flagrantly bending and breaking rules to suit his purpose?
According to the California Association of Counties, “the Board of Supervisors may supervise a sheriff to the extent that the sheriff acts as a county officer, and may investigate his performance of county duties. However, in enforcing state law, the sheriff is acting as a peace officer of the state and is under the direct supervision of the attorney general.” In addition to being an officer of the county, the sheriff is also an officer of the court and, while acting in that capacity, is not under the supervision of the Board of Supervisors. This precludes the Board’s authority to investigate the sheriff in connection with such duties.
As convoluted as this seems, there are options to corral a rogue sheriff. A key role of the Civil Grand Jury in California is to “weigh the allegations of misconduct against public officials and determine whether to present formal accusations requesting their removal from office.” In such instances, it is then up to the more to accept the recommendation and make a referral to the Attorney General.
Charter counties like Los Angeles and San Francisco on the other hand, have constitutional power to amend their charters to provide removal procedures for elected county officers like sheriffs. Charter counties have two primary options for removing their sheriffs – a recall by the voters or removal by the county governing body for cause such as official misconduct.
San Bernardino as a charter county gave itself such authority in 2002. To do so, it relied on its charter powers and the California Attorney General’s opinion that “A county charter may grant the board of supervisors the authority to remove the sheriff for cause by a four-fifths vote of the Board.” Although the constitutionality of the ordinance was challenged by the sitting sheriff, it withstood the legal challenge.
Sheriffs in general law counties like Riverside are also subject to recall, with some distinctions between sheriffs in charter counties versus those in general law counties. General law counties like Riverside require the legislature to “provide for recall of local officers.”
So, while general law counties must use the state’s existing recall procedure (and are probably limited to that remedy), and although charter counties like San Bernardino have greater flexibility to use the recall or some other removal procedure, the bottom line is that California sheriffs are not exempt from removal before their term expires.
In September 2021 the ACLU requested the state Attorney General to investigate the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department citing a number of concerns about Bianco and the department. The concerns included Bianco’s failure to adequately protect inmates from COVID-19, high rates of in-custody deaths, fatal police shootings that disproportionately impact people of color, as well as the department’s failure to comply with a federal consent decree, etc.
Subsequent to that request, not much changed in 2022. Inmate deaths continued to accrue as did police shootings. In the meantime Chad Bianco continues to fumble through as sheriff so puffed up and arrogant his feet barely touch the ground. The philosopher David Hume once wrote, “When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken.”
I’m sure if Bianco was aware of this comment he would never believe how it applies to people like him.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.
In recent weeks two Riverside County deputies, Deputy Isaiah Cordero and Deputy Darnell Calhoun, lost their lives in the line of duty. I extend condolences to the families for their loss. May they rest in peace.