Credit: Illustration by Chris Allen, VOICE

Gail Fry | IE Voice 

Part 1 of this two-part series provided background regarding how for decades San Bernardino County Sheriffs, with Board of Supervisors’ approval, have successfully hand-picked their successors. Their selections also enjoyed the apparent concurrence of the Sheriff Employees Benefit Association (SEBA). Through this process, these hand-selected candidates were always well positioned for subsequent electoral victory. 

Part 2 of this report begins with the San Bernardino County Sheriff Department’s transition to the modern era and how the position of sheriff passed from one hand- selected successor to another for nearly 40 years. You will  learn about the sheriffs who benefitted from this legacy and some of the egregious use of force incidents and/or other suspect and/or illegal activities that occurred on their watch as highlighted in this story or the  associated timeline. 

Here is how the selection of San Bernardino County Sheriffs in the modern era unfolded. 

Frank Bland 

Frank Bland, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent under former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was elected sheriff in San Bernardino County in 1954. (sbsmuseum.com).

In 1954, Frank Bland, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent under FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was elected San Bernardino County (SBC) Sheriff.  

Hoover was infamous for abusing his FBI authority to collect damaging information on powerful people to expand and secure his own power and influence.

Bland was reputed to have done much of the same in San Bernardino County, purportedly collecting damaging information on politicians and business leaders alike. Referred to in at least one biography as a “John Wayne” lawman, Bland is credited with moving the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department into the modern era regarding its use of technology. 

Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was infamous for abusing his FBI authority to collect damaging information on powerful people. (source: wikipedia.com).

During an interview with the San Bernardino Sun in 1974, former SBC Supervisor Dennis Hansberger recalled how most elected figures at the time felt exposed around Bland as SBC lived in what he described as a “John Wayne society where sheriffs wear a pearl-handled revolver.” 

Decades later in 2001, Hansberger recalled retired sheriff employees sharing stories about Bland and his successor, Floyd Tidwell. In the process, Hansberger allegedly confirmed Bland had indeed collected information and used it to pressure people. 

Former SBC Sheriff Tidwell, who succeeded Bland as the county’s sheriff, objected to such accusations against Bland   and challenged his accusers to “reveal the evidence or put it in the trash.”   

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Training Academy is named the Frank Bland Regional Training Center in honor of former Sheriff Frank Bland (source: cms.sbcounty.gov).

The Frank Bland Regional Training Center is named in recognition of this “John Wayne” lawman as is the Frank Bland Memorial, created to honor county deputies killed in the line of duty. 

Floyd Tidwell 

Bland retired in 1982, endorsing his undersheriff, Floyd Tidwell, a 30-year veteran, to fill his shoes.

Tidwell was also endorsed by U.S. Congressman Jerry Lewis, State Senator Ruben Ayala, State Senator Robert Pressley, State Assemblyman William Leonard and the SEBA. 

With campaign funds totaling $120,000, (equivalent to $320,255 today according to the website saving.org), Tidwell easily defeated his opponent.

Floyd Tidwell served as Sheriff of  SBC from 1983 to 1991. (sbsmuseum.com).

He promised his supporters, “I will (sic) carry on the fine traditions of Frank Bland and the men and women of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.”  

Looking at Tidwell’s tenure through the lens of the over-criminalization of Blacks, it was on his watch that current death row inmate Kevin Cooper was arrested, charged, found guilty and sentenced to death in 1985 for the 1983, widely publicized, Chino Hills murders of four people-Doug and Peggy Ryen, their daughter Jessica and their 11-year-old neighbor, Christopher Hughes. Cooper has always maintained his innocence

There were strong allegations of racial bias as well as police and prosecutorial misconduct during the trial. In subsequent years, despite new evidence appearing to cast strong doubt on Cooper’s guilt, his conviction and sentence continued to be affirmed in the courts. 

In 2016 Cooper filed an executive clemency petition and in response former Governor Jerry Brown ordered DNA testing. Those results, delivered after Governor Newsom came to office, proved inconclusive. Newsom subsequently ordered an expansion of Cooper’s innocence investigation. On May 28, 2021, using the clemency authority provided under the state’s constitution, Newsom ordered an independent investigation into Cooper’s case. 

The Kevin Cooper Case for Innocence website states, “The horrific nature of the murders risked putting the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department under close scrutiny by the local community and national media. This scrutiny risked exposing corruption within.”

There were strong allegations of racial bias as well as police and prosecutorial misconduct during the trial. In subsequent years, despite new evidence appearing to cast doubt on Kevin Cooper’s guilt, his conviction and sentence continued to be affirmed in the courts. (source: kevincooper.org).

There may be some credibility to this Case for Innocence statement. Tidwell, who served as sheriff from 1983 to 1991, pled guilty in 2004 to felony charges related to his theft of more than 530 confiscated weapons from the evidence lockers over the course of his tenure, something purportedly well-known throughout the department during his years in office.

Follow this link to learn more about the numerous reports related to other allegations of nefarious behaviors by Tidwell and others tied to the SBCSD during his time in office. 

In 1990, Tidwell endorsed his undersheriff Richard “Dick” Williams, a 28-year veteran, to be the next sheriff of San Bernardino County. 

Dick Williams

During the SBC race for sheriff in 1990, Williams was endorsed by most county politicians politically loyal to Tidwell and Bland as well as SEBA.

In 1990, undersheriff Richard “Dick” Williams, was endorsed by retiring Sheriff Floyd Tidwell,  to be the next sheriff of San Bernardino County. (sbsmuseum.com).

Williams’ campaign funds totalled $249,086 (equivalent to $514,515 today according to savings.org), nearly 12 times more than campaign funds raised by his opponents. 

Williams promised supporters” he would follow Tidwell’s lead in maintaining strong law enforcement, (sic).”

With the advantages of powerful endorsements and generous campaign contributions, Williams was elected sheriff in 1990.  Tidwell retired before Williams was officially sworn in.

Williams’ opponents associated him with Bland and Tidwell’s old-boys-network reputation and although Williams assured the public issues impacting the department during Tidwell’s tenure were resolved, when two former honorary deputies were later arrested in a crackdown on prostitution, one was reportedly Tidwell’s former campaign manager.

When Williams retired in January 1995, he hand-picked his deputy chief Gary Penrod to succeed him.   

Sheriffs Dick Williams (L), Floyd Tidwell (C) and Frank Bland (R) Opponents of Sheriff Dick Williamspainted him as another of former Sheriffs Bland and Tidwell’s old-boys-network. (sbsmuseum.com).

Gary Penrod 

On June 8, 1994, Penrod, a 23-year veteran, handily won the primary over five opponents and began working with then Sheriff Williams. This provided Penrod with status and visibility prior to the November election.  Among his supporters were sergeant John McMahon and deputy Shannon Dicus who would eventually have their turns as San Bernardino County Sheriff.

In January, 1995, San Bernardino County deputy chief Gary Penrod was hand selected by Sheriff Dick Williams to succeed him as sheriff.  (sbsmuseum.com).

Penrod’s campaign contributions totaled $326,000 compared to $71,000 for all of his opponents combined.  According to saving.org, $326,000 in 1994 is equivalent to $582,404 today.

Penrod was elected in November 1994 and sworn in as the new SBC’s sheriff on January 4, 1995.

As those who came before him, Penrod promised his supporters fidelity to his predecessor, advising,“[H]e would continue the legacy of San Bernardino County Sheriff Dick Williams.” 

In July 2002, the SBC Board of Supervisors adopted Ordinance No. 3863, which called for the reprimand and removal of county officers, including the sheriff, for cause  with a four-fifths vote of the board. Cause was defined as (1) Flagrant or repeated neglect of duties; (2) Misappropriation of public property; (3) Violation of any law related to the performance of the official’s duties; and/or (4) Willful falsification of a relevant official statement or document. 

Penrod immediately filed a complaint challenging the validity of the ordinance and seeking an injunction against its enforcement– the court granted a temporary injunction.   His complaint was not in opposition to an actual effort to invoke the removal power against him, instead he sought to establish facial unconstitutionality by equating the county sheriff with a state official like the Governor and subject to the same limits on removal procedures.  

San Bernardino however is a “charter county” and as such, the Constitution recognizes “Home Rule,” described as “the right of the people of a charter county to create their own local government and define its powers within limits set out by the Constitution.”  

After a series of cross-motions and amended complaints, on January 31, 2005 the Fourth District Court of Appeals determined Penrod had failed to demonstrate that the ordinance was facially repugnant to the California Constitution or the specified laws of this state and the preliminary injunction, etc. was dissolved. 

In July 2002, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors adopted Ordinance No. 3863, involving reprimand and removal of county officers, including the sheriff for cause. Sheriff Penrod immediately filed a complaint challenging the validity of the ordinance and seeking an injunction against its enforcement and the trial court granted a temporary injunction. (caselaw.findlaw.com).

On January 7, 2009, Penrod announced his retirement and recommended assistant sheriff Rod Hoops to succeed him.

Rod Hoops 

Sheriff Rod Hoops -Despite all the passing of the torch from one sheriff to his “favorite son,” the first time the SBC Board of Supervisors actually appointed a sheriff was when Penrod retired in 2009, and endorsed Rod Hoops, a 30-year veteran, to fill his shoes.  (sbsmuseum.com).

Despite all the passing of the torch from one sheriff to his “favorite son,” the first time the SBC Board of Supervisors actually appointed a sheriff was when Penrod retired in 2009, and endorsed Hoops, a 30-year veteran, to fill his shoes.

“County supervisors decided to bypass an open selection process and picked the man endorsed by Sheriff Penrod,” the Chino Champion reported on January 17, 2009.

Hoops received the endorsements of the board supervisors who praised him for his leadership skills and experience. He stressed to supporters, “The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has a long history of providing excellent law enforcement to our county.” 

When his appointed term expired in 2010, the incumbent Hoops faced two opponents. He outraised and outspent his closest opponent by more than 12 to 1.

On January 4, 2011, after defeating his opponents by 80,000 votes, Hoops was sworn in as sheriff but within two years, in November 2012, he announced his retirement, describing SBCSD as operating like a “fine-tuned machine.” 

Not surprisingly, Hoops anointed his replacement, assistant sheriff John McMahon. 

John McMahon 

On December 4, 2012, the board of supervisors decided to fill the vacancy left by Hoops by appointment.  It received applications from McMahon, Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy Paul Schrader, and retired SBC Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Keith Bushey. 

Sheriff John McMahon was anointed by his predecessor Rod Hoops to follow him as Sheriff of San Bernardino county. McMahon was subsequently appointed to serve as sheriff by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.  (theievoice.com).

In addition to Hoop’s endorsement, McMahon, a 28-year veteran, also received glowing recommendations from his peers at the SBCSD and SEBA, as well as those in neighboring law enforcement communities. He was appointed to the position by the board of supervisors and promised supporters to continue the good work the department was already doing.   

However, the appointment process was questioned when candidate Bushey accused Hoops of brokering an agreement with the board of supervisors to have McMahon installed. But, now former SB County Board Chairperson Jose Gonzalez denied the accusation

At McMahon’s swearing ceremony, citizens complained their requests for a special election instead of an appointment were not  heard. 

In the 2014 election, McMahon faced two opponents, but secured 62 percent of the vote. His campaign contributions totaled $356,335 compared to one of his opponents who raised only $38,596, official campaign records of his other opponent were not available for review. 

When the process used to appoint John McMahon sheriff was questioned and Hoops was accused of brokering an agreement with the Board of Supervisors, former Supervisor and Board Chairperson Josie Gonzalez denied the allegation.  (source: the invoice.com).

In 2018, McMahon ran unopposed and just like his predecessor, two years into the term, he announced plans to retire well before the end of his term.

Shannon Discus 

Despite the SB County Charter being amended in 2020 allowing a special election to fill vacancies, the SBC board of supervisors found it was not feasible to hold a special election to replace McMahon. Instead it called for applications and then appointed McMahon’s undersheriff Shannon Dicus. McMahon expressed his support, stressing the department was in great hands under Discus’ leadership. 

Although two other qualified candidates sought the position including sheriff lieutenant Phillip Dupper and retired law enforcement official Clifton Harris, board supervisors were effusive in their praise of Dicus, who said he “plans to continue the great work that is being performed  [by the department] throughout the communities.”  

San Bernardino County Undersheriff Shannon Dicus responds to reports about a video that shows a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy in Victorville kicking a subdued suspect in the head on June 16. (Screenshot from San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department video)

Owing to his appointment, Dicus–like Hoops, and McMahon before him–has the advantage of incumbency in this year’s election with the power of the Sheriff’s Department, the endorsement of the political establishment, and campaign funds already at $195,678 as of Dec 2021.     

What will voters choose?

In this election, opponents to Discus will have to overcome his many campaign advantages as voters in San Bernardino County make their decision.  

Do voters want to continue with the same culture and practices of their prior sheriffs or will they opt for an alternative view of law enforcement and a new way forward for San Bernardino County?

Follow this link to a detailed timeline where you can learn more about some of the things that occurred under San Bernardino County’s more recent sheriffs .

Sources:

MacDuff, C. (June 8, 1994) Money: Gas that Drives Campaigns, The Sun 

Hasten, M. (September 14, 2014) Do endorsements help candidates? News Star

Shuster, B. (April 7, 2001) Being an Incumbent Has Many Benefits, Los Angeles Times

Henry, J. (November 5, 2014) ACLU:  Southern California cops are putting spy tool in place quietly, San Gabriel Valley Tribune 

January 25, 1974 Frank Bland seeks 6th term as sheriff, Chino Champion

Pollock, D. (June 9, 1974) Sheriff Frank Bland White-hat mystique, The Sun

McNary, S. (October 14, 2001) Tales of intrigue may be just that several deny a claim accusing the Sheriff’s Department of political spying, The Press-Enterprise

Feit, Harvey (June 6, 1982) The 2-Man Race for San Bernardino County, The Sun

December 23, 1981 The Needles Desert Star, and Feit, Harvey (June 6, 1982) The 2-Man Race for San Bernardino County, The Sun

Undersheriff Floyd Tidwell Political advertisement (June 2, 1982), The Hi-Desert Star

Feit, Harvey (June 6, 1982) The 2-Man Race for San Bernardino County, The Sun    

(December 23, 1981) Sheriff Endorses Tidwell, The Needles Desert Star

Specht, J. (May 28, 1990) Battle for sheriff a quest for change, The Sun

Marble, S. (February 26, 2020) Floyd Tidwell, former San Bernardino County sheriff who modernized agency, dies at 90, Los Angeles Times

Specht, J. (May 28, 1990) Battle for sheriff a quest for change, The Sun and Guiterrez, J. (June 6, 1990) Williams: Win reflects well on sheriff’s office, The Sun 

Specht, J. (May 28, 1990) Battle for sheriff a quest for change, The Sun  

Williams, S. (January 9, 2009) Opinion:  The good ol’ boys, Victorville Daily Press

MacDuff, C. (June 8, 1994) Penrod crushes 5 foes, The Sun

Fitzsimmons, P. (January 4, 1995) Penrod takes oath to head Sheriff’s Department, The Sun

Paid political advertisement (June 5, 1994) Penrod for Sheriff, The Sun

MacDuff, C. (June 8, 1994) Money: Gas that Drives Campaigns, The Sun

MacDuff, C. (November 27, 1993) Deputy Chief to run for sheriff, The Sun 

MacDuff, C. (January 17, 2009) Crazy Logic of County Supes, The Press-Enterprise

Here & There (January 17, 2009) Chino Champion 

Lindstrom, N. (January 28, 2009) Board appoints Penrod’s successor Victor Valley Daily Press SEBA will back SBC

Ghori, I. (November 5, 2009) San Bernardino sheriff’s union endorses Hoops, Ramos, The Press-Enterprise

Rod Hoops (April 24, 2010) Rod Hoops, appointed incumbent, SB County Sheriff-Coroner, Daily News

Dome, A. (April 18, 2010) Two challenge Hoops for sheriff in June election, Victor Valley Daily Press

LaRocco, P. (June 9, 2010) ELECTION 2010: Hoops holds sizeable lead in S.B. sheriff race, The Press-Enterprise

(January 1, 2011) San Bernardino County Sheriff, Chino Champion  

Ghori, I. (November 9, 2012) SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY: Retiring sheriff says department fit, fine-tuned, The Press-Enterprise 

(December 22, 2012) County names new sheriff, Chino Hills Champion

Nelson, J. (December 18, 2012) New San Bernadino County sheriff appointed, The Sun 

Vinton, K. (December 30, 2012) McMahon to carry on Sheriff Department’s good work, Daily Press

Saunders, D. (November 13, 2012) Hoops denies he has brokered with board to hand-pick his replacement, The Sun

Rokos, B. (January 2020) Former San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell dies at age 90, The Press-Enterprise

SBC Registrar of Voters, election records 

CBSLA staff (July 13, 2021) San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon to Retire on July 16, CBS Local, Los Angeles 

(July 10, 2021) Undersheriff Dicus to complete sheriff’s term, Champion Newspapers

Reinart, S. (July 20, 2021) 36 Years of Dedication, San Bernardino County Sheriff, John McMajon Retires, San Bernardino City News

McGee, C. (August 3, 2021) San Bernardino County coroner restricts release of info on shootings, crashes and other deaths, Victorville Daily Press

Gail Fry

Gail Fry is a legal assistant who acted as a self-appointed government watchdog in San Bernardino County during the early 2000s. Over those years she sought public records, was critical of county-paid benefits for state judges, expressed concern over the perceived creative financing for court construction and played a key role in the California Fair Political Practices Commission’s formal warning to former San Bernardino County Sheriff Gary Penrod for violating the Political Reform Act for failing to disclose ownership of several properties over many years. Fry then served eight years as a reporter for The Alpenhorn News, a biweekly newspaper covering the San Bernardino Mountain communities. Fry remains committed in her quest to hold government officials accountable to the people they represent through her articles in Moffatt Media, The IE Voice, Black Voice News and The San Bernardino American News, as well as her work with various law firms on issues she believes will shine a light on government corruption.