Editorial Highlights from the desk of Clifton Harris Upcoming San Bernardino County Sheriff race places the future of law enforcement in the hands of voters 

Gail Fry

Contributor

Official records received by The San Bernardino American News show over the past 12 years, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors has chosen the new sheriff, over objections from voters wanting to hold an election for sheriff.    

The record shows starting on January 28, 2009, when San Bernardino County (SBC) appointed sheriff Rod Hoops through its unanimous appointment of sheriff Shannon Dicus on July 7, 2021, the department has been and is continuing to be led by a sheriff chosen by the SBC Board of Supervisors (BOS), followed by successful re-elections of Hoops and McMahon.

Evidence gathered from official records and historical news articles, The San Bernardino American News concludes Dicus’ appointment on July 7, 2021, forms a decades long pattern starting in 1983 with Sheriff Frank Bland, in how the county and the sheriff’s department maneuvers to install a sheriff from  its executive staff.  

The selected high-ranking executive staff member is recommended by the elected sheriff, endorsed by the political establishment, and the Sheriff Employees Benefit Association (SEBA), is then enriched with substantial campaign funds to safeguard a successful election.  

A promise is always given by the new sheriff to advance the department’s traditions harkening back to SBC Sheriff Frank Bland, who retired in 1983, and if the new sheriff is appointed by the BOS, is supplied with the advantage of being the incumbent for the next election. 

These elements substantially increased their chances of a  successful election and future elections.  

“Decades of political science research demonstrates that the more a challenger spends, the more likely he or she is to win.” (October 29, 2018) Money in elections doesn’t mean what you think it does, University of Florida

 “Incumbents have many advantages, not the least of which is name recognition and free media. So, challengers must spend more to overcome the obstacles they face, from name recognition to formidable incumbent war chests meant to scare off a challenger.”  (October 29, 2018) Money in elections doesn’t mean what you think it does, University of Florida

“Political campaign endorsements grant candidates approval from political organizations, the media, or community leaders.” Dorlin, D. (March 27, 2021) This gives certain voters confidence that a candidate puts their interests first.  How to Earn Political Endorsements, National Democratic Training Committee

The citizens patrolled and most effected by the SBCSD, live in the unincorporated areas and cities contracting with SBCSD for law enforcement services, represent the majority of the county and have been informed of those law enforcement services provided over the last 12 years by reading news articles and/or viewing videos of law enforcement officers engaged in questionable interactions or fatal confrontations with residents, or facing criminal charges themselves. 

As reported by The San Bernardino American News, the majority of residents are unaware of the SBCSD use of an electronic surveillance device no search warrant starting in 2013, more than 300 times from January 2014 and May 2015.  The device mimics a cell phone tower seizing cell phone data and/or communications within the device’s range, a device known as Stingray. 

In October 2015, California enacted the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA) amending penal code section 1546, adding sections 1546.1, 1546.2 and 1546.4, requiring law enforcement to have a search warrant to compel or access electronic communications.    

Right now SBC residents have little ability to determine if their phone data and/or communications were collected by a Stingray.   

SBCSD was one of three organizations purchasing the most surveillance equipment in the State of California. Henry, J. (November 5, 2014) ACLU:  Southern California cops are putting spy tool in place quietly, San Gabriel Valley Tribune  

SBCSD provides law enforcement for the cities of Adelanto, Apple Valley, Big Bear Lake, Chino Hills, Grand Terrace, Hesperia, Highland, Loma Linda, Needles, Rancho Cucamonga, Twentynine Palms, Victorville, Yucaipa, and Yucca Valley.  

This year’s election poses a question to the voters of SBC; is the status quo of its law enforcement leadership acceptable based on the type of law enforcement that this county has experienced for the past 39 years or is a change needed?

A question for voters to answer would be why their sheriff, holding one of the most powerful elected positions in the county, is selected for them through an endorsement by their sheriff and SEBA, an appointment by their elected officials sealing a successful election by the few wealthy campaign contributors.    

The most recent data on resident’s economic condition determined by the United States (U.S.) Census Bureau’s is that the average annual income of residents is $67,903, not wealthy.  U.S. Census Bureau   

FRANK BLAND

SBC Sheriff Frank Bland was elected in 1954, Bland a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent under FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.  (January 25, 1974) Frank Bland seeks 6th term as sheriff, Chino Champion    

Hoover’s abuse of the FBI’s powers to collect damaging information for power and influence was scandalous when realized.  https://www.britannica.com/biography/J-Edgar-Hoover

Bland had the reputation of doing the same in SBC, gathering embarrassing information on politicians and business leaders. 

Former SBC Supervisor Dennis Hansberger remembered most elected officials felt threatened by the sheriff at a time when SBC was a John Wayne society, where sheriff’s wore a pearl-handled revolver.  Pollock, D. (June 9, 1974) Sheriff Frank Bland White-hat mystique, The Sun

Years later in 2001, Hansberger recalled hearing stories from retired sheriff employees of Sheriff Bland and his successor Floyd Tidwell collecting information used to pressure people.  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

Former SBC Sheriff Tidwell objected to those accusations, against a dead and a retired sheriff, confronting his accusers demandingl the evidence or put it in the trash.   

FLOYD TIDWELL 

SBC Sheriff Bland stepped down in 1982, endorsing his undersheriff Floyd Tidwell, a 30-year SBCSD employee, to fill his position.  Feit, Harvey (June 6, 1982) The 2-Man Race for San Bernardino County, The Sun

In the November 1982 election, Tidwell easily defeated his opponent retired sheriff captain Charles Callahan. (December 23, 1981) The Needles Desert Star, and Feit, Harvey (June 6, 1982) The 2-Man Race for San Bernardino County, The Sun

Tidwell was endorsed by U.S. Congressman Jerry Lewis, State Senator Ruben Ayala, State Senator Robert Pressley, State Assemblyman William Leonard, SEBA.  Undersheriff Floyd Tidwell Political advertisement (June 2, 1982), The Hi-Desert Star

Tidwell raised $120,000 in campaign funds now worth $320,255 based on website saving.org.   Feit, Harvey (June 6, 1982) The 2-Man Race for San Bernardino County, The Sun    

Tidwell promised to carry on the fine traditions of Frank Bland and the men and women of the SBCSD.   (December 23, 1981) Sheriff Endorses Tidwell, The Needles Desert Star

In 1990, undersheriff Richard “Dick” Williams with the department for 28-years, was endorsed by Tidwell to become sheriff.  Specht, J. (May 28, 1990) Battle for sheriff a quest for change, The Sun

DICK WILLIAMS

In Williams’ race for sheriff in 1990, he again faced former sheriff’s captain Callahan with new opponent, U.S. Marshall Sam Cicchino.  Specht, J. (May 28, 1990) Battle for sheriff a quest for change, The Sun

Williams was endowed with the loyalty of most county politicians as being the heir apparent of Tidwell and Bland.  SEBA also endorsed Williams.  Specht, J. (May 28, 1990) Battle for sheriff a quest for change, The Sun 

Williams raised $249,086 in campaign contributions; 12 times more than his opponents.  Specht, J. (May 28, 1990) Battle for sheriff a quest for change, The Sun   Website saving.org, $249,086 in 1990 now valued at $514,515.68.   

Williams promised to follow Tidwell’s lead in maintaining strong law enforcement.   Specht, J. (May 28, 1990) Battle for sheriff a quest for change, The Sun         

With those benefits, the incumbency, the endorsements, and campaign contributions, Williams won his election for sheriff in 1990.  

Prior to undersheriff Williams being sworn in as sheriff in January 1991, Tidwell retired. Marble, S. (February 26, 2020) Floyd Tidwell, former San Bernardino County sheriff who modernized agency, dies at 90, Los Angeles Times 

Williams’ opponents associated him with Bland and Tidwell’s reputation of a old-boys-network, Williams said the issues were addressed.  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  

Williams’ opponents Callahan and Cicchino highlighted the arrest of two former honorary deputies in a prostitution crackdown, Tidwell’s former campaign manager was one.  Specht, J. (May 28, 1990) Battle for sheriff a quest for change, The Sun   

Sheriff Dick Williams announced his plan to  retire, recommended and actively campaigned for his deputy chief Gary Penrod.  Williams, S. (January 9, 2009) Opinion:  The good ol’ boys, Victorville Daily Press 

GARY PENROD

On June 8, 1994, Penrod, a 23-year veteran, easily won the primary over five opponents.  MacDuff, C. (June 8, 1994) Penrod crushes 5 foes, The Sun 

After clinching the primary election, Penrod started working closely with then sheriff Williams, giving Penrod status and visibility before taking office.  Fitzsimmons, P. (January 4, 1995) Penrod takes oath to head Sheriff’s Department, The Sun    

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

Penrod was endorsed by over 100 people, the majority were law enforcement including then deputy Shannon Dicus, sergeant John McMahon.  Paid political advertisement (June 5, 1994) Penrod for Sheriff, The Sun    

Penrod raised $326,000 in campaign contributions compared to $71,000 for his opponents combined.  According to saving.org, $326,000 in 1994 valued at $582,404 today. MacDuff, C. (June 8, 1994) Money: Gas that Drives Campaigns, The Sun     

Penrod promised he would continue the legacy of San Bernardino County Sheriff Dick Williams.  MacDuff, C. (November 27, 1993) Deputy Chief to run for sheriff, The Sun  

Penrod announced his retirement on January 7, 2009, endorsing assistant sheriff Rod Hoops, a 22-year veteran, to replace him.  MacDuff, C. (January 17, 2009) Crazy Logic of County Supes, The Press-Enterprise 

ROD HOOPS

Assistant Rod Hoops, a 30-year veteran, was the first time the SBC BOS appointed the sheriff after sheriff Penrod retired in 2009, supporting his assistant sheriff Rod Hoops to fill the vacancy. 

“County supervisors decided to bypass an open selection process and pick the man endorsed by Sheriff Penrod.” Here & There (January 17, 2009) Chino Champion  

Hoops was praised by the supervisors for his leadership skills and experience at its board meeting. Lindstrom, N. (January 28, 2009) Board appoints Penrod’s successor Victor Valley Daily Press SEBA endorsed SBC Sheriff Hoops for next year’s election.  Ghori, I. (November 5, 2009) San Bernardino sheriff’s union endorses Hoops, Ramos, The Press-Enterprise 

Hoops promised by acknowledging that the SBCD has a long history of providing excellent law enforcement for our county.  Rod Hoops (April 24, 2010) Rod Hoops, appointed incumbent, SB County Sheriff-Coroner, Daily News 

When his term expired, incumbent Hoops faced deputies Mark Averbeck and Paul Schrader in the 2010 election. Dome, A. (April 18, 2010) Two challenge Hoops for sheriff in June election, Victor Valley Daily Press    

Hoops outraised and outspent opponent Paul Schrader by more than 12 to 1, with opponent Paul Averbeck having no campaign activity.  LaRocco, P. (June 9, 2010) ELECTION 2010: Hoops holds sizeable lead in S.B. sheriff race, The Press-Enterprise

On January 4, 2011, Hoops was sworn into office after clinching the primary by 80,000 votes.  (January 1, 2011) San Bernardino County Sheriff, Chino Champion   

On November 7, 2012, Hoops announced his retirement, and justified an inside appointment explaining SBCSD was operating like a fine-tuned machine.  Ghori, I. (November 9, 2012) SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY: Retiring sheriff says department fit, fine-tuned, The Press-Enterprise  

JOHN MCMAHON

Hoops endorsed 28-year veteran assistant sheriff John McMahon in December 2012. (December 22, 2012) County names new sheriff, Chino Hills Champion

McMahon was endorsed by the BOS when they cited glowing recommendations from McMahon’s peers at the SBCSD and SEBA, and neighboring law enforcement.  Nelson, J. (December 18, 2012) New San Bernadino County sheriff appointed, The Sun  

McMahon promised to continue the good work the department is already doing.  Vinton, K. (December 30, 2012) McMahon to carry on Sheriff Department’s good work, Daily Press

On December 4, 2012, the BOS announced the vacancy would be filled by appointment receiving applications from assistant sheriff John McMahon, Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy Paul Schrader, and retired SBC Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Keith Bushey.  

The process was questioned when candidate Bushey implicated Hoops in brokering an agreement with the BOS to install McMahon.  SBC BOS Chairperson Jose Gonzalez rebuffed the accusation.  Saunders, D. (November 13, 2012) Hoops denies he has brokered with board to hand-pick his replacement, The Sun 

At McMahon’s swearing-in, as reported by the Daily Press, citizens objected their requests for a special election instead of an appointment weren’t heeded.  

In the 2014 election, McMahon faced Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy Schrader and retired law enforcement Clifton Harris.  At the June Primary, McMahon gained 62 percent of the votes.    

McMahon raised $356,335 in campaign contributions compared to opponent Paul Schrader’s $38,596 in donations, or nine percent of McMahon’s. Official campaign finance records Harris’ campaign finance records were unavailable from the SBC Registrar of Voters.    

With McMahon’s win in 2014, Tidwell attended his victory party and confirmed his family’s close relationship existing prior to 1985.  Rokos, B. (January 2020) Former San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell dies at age 90, The Press-Enterprise

In 2018, Sheriff McMahon ran with no opponent.  SBC Registrar of Voters, election records  

In June 2021, McMahon announced retirement plans effective July 17, 2021, after serving 8 ½ years as sheriff. 

SHANNON DICUS

Despite the SBC County Charter being amended in 2020 authorizing a special election to fill vacancies, the SBC BOS found it not possible to hold a special election for sheriff. 

On June 22, 2021, the SBC BOS sought applications from qualified individuals wanting to be sheriff.  

Following sheriff Shannon Dicus’ appointment, McMahon opined the department was in great hands and confident in the future of the department under his leadership.  CBSLA staff (July 13, 2021) San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon to Retire on July 16, CBS Local, Los Angeles  

Prior to Dicus’ appointment, The Sun reported SBC BOS Chair Curt Hagman voice the voters’ confidence in electing McMahon also showed support for his administration.  

SBC Supervisor Rutherford, disappointed a special election could not be held, Tweeted McMahon placed the department in great hands Sheriff Dicus.  

Hagman pointed to Dicus’ experience and knowledge.  (July 10, 2021) Undersheriff Dicus to complete sheriff’s term, Champion Newspapers 

Dicus promised to continue the great work that is being performed (by the department) throughout the communities.”  Reinart, S. (July 20, 2021) 36 Years of Dedication, San Bernardino County Sheriff, John McMajon Retires, San Bernardino City News

Three qualified applicants applied, undersheriff Shannon Dicus, department veteran since 1991, sheriff lieutenant Phillip Dupper and retired law enforcement Clifton Harris.  

Now Dicus endowed with the incumbency in his 2022 campaign, already having the power of the sheriff’s department, the endorsement of political establishment, and campaign funds already at $195,678 as December 2021, similar to Sheriffs Hoops, and McMahon.    

After taking office, sheriff Dicus lowered transparency on unnatural deaths, restricting coroner’s office records from the public.  McGee, C. (August 3, 2021) San Bernardino County coroner restricts release of info on shootings, crashes and other deaths, Victorville Daily Press

In this election, the voters in San Bernardino County have a decision to make, do they want to continue with the same culture and practices of their prior sheriffs, or support change. 

Any opponents have to overpower Dicus’ superior position, being the incumbent with influential political endorsements, and name recognition paid for with his overwhelming campaign contributions.  

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