Accusations heat up Sheriff race

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Accusations  heat up  Sheriff raceFootage of a 2006 address by then-candidate Donny Youngblood and complaints against several of Kern County’s top officials have stirred up controversy in the race for Kern County’s top law-enforcement position.

Earlier this week, Youngblood’s sole challenger for the seat of Kern County Sheriff, Chief Deputy Justin Fleeman, released a video of the sitting sheriff’s address to detention deputies. In an edited video clip, Youngblood addresses the costs incurred by the county of use of force, including a description of those relating to lethal force used in the field and injuries inflicted during incarceration.

The contrast appears to show Youngblood promoting lethal use of force as an ultimately cost-saving measure for the county.

“This type of speech is beyond reprehensible,” Fleeman posted on social media following the release of the clip. “Not only does this reflect poorly on the current sheriff, it puts the entire sheriff’s office in a precarious position.”

“I don’t want to get involved in this type of campaigning,” Youngblood said when the News Review asked him to comment on the video.

“I can say that this was 12 years ago, before I was the sheriff, doing an interview in front of the detention deputies union board. By the way — they endorsed me for sheriff after that interview. It’s only now, 12 years later, that they’re offended by it.”

Youngblood said that his comments were taken out of context. “Our policy is to shoot to stop a threat. [In the video] I was talking specifically about other kinds of excessive force.”

He said his intent in that discussion was not to prioritize actions based on the costs. “Could I have stated it better? Yes.”

He added that the campaign will not release the full tape. “They just want you to look at that part of it.”

The week before, Fleeman’s public relations manager released a statement calling to task County Counsel Mark Nations and County Clerk Mary Bedard for denying Fleeman’s campaign from publishing their desired candidate statement on the ballot.

Nations said that Fleeman’s statement “does not comply with the requirements of Elections Code 13308 in that it is not limited to a recitation of the candidate’s own personal background and qualifications, and it contains implicit references to the other candidate in the race.”

Huckaby said the paragraph in question read, “Unscrupulous leadership, public controversy, unethical behavior and the good-old-boy system have undermined community faith in the ability of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office to carry out its essential functions. I will change that.”

“We believe that the state is in fact a reflection of Justin Fleeman’s personal qualifications because it refers to his history of ethical leadership and behavior,” said Huckaby.

He further stated that the elections official “happily accepted the statement on March 5.”

Bedard said that staff at the elections office is prohibited from offering legal advice or interpretation. Fleeman was offered an opportunity to amend the statement, she said, but he declined.

The statement was then forwarded to a judge, who determined that the paragraph in question must be stricken.

“The paper given to us by Mark Nations states, ‘Bedard requested Mr. Fleeman to amend his candidate’s statement, but he has failed to do so.’ This is false and does not reflect the conversation that Mr. Fleeman had with the elections office,” said Huckaby.

“While we know that it can be argued that removing a paragraph is amending a statement, stating that the campaign was asked to amend the statement suggests that we had the option to choose how we were going to amend the statement — which we did not. We were only given the choice to either cross out the paragraph or to allow it to go to courts to have the paragraph crossed out.

“We believe that this act is motivated by politics rather than true adherence to the law and personal relationships are being honored versus the best interest of the residents of Kern County.”

Story First Published: 2018-04-13