From left are Sgt. Carson Wingfield, Sgt. Todd Johns and Sgt. Chad Hermann, candidates to fill the place of Sheriff Greg Hagwood. He submitted his resignation in September to the Board of Supervisors. His last day is Dec. 30. Three of the four supervisors voted in favor of Johns, current patrol commander, to fill the position of interim sheriff. Photo by Victoria Metcalf

Patrol commander to become interim sheriff

Editor’s note: Originally each candidate was to have most of his response to each question published. When the Board of Supervisors chose to select its candidate for interim sheriff the same day, the responses from Sgt. Carson Wingfield and Sgt. Chad Hermann were shortened.

Sgt. Todd Johns of Greenville will replace Sheriff Greg Hagwood at the beginning of 2020 as the new interim sheriff.

Johns was selected on a three to 0 vote by supervisors despite strong objections from Supervisor Lori Simpson.

Simpson refused to vote because she thought the board should think about the candidates’ responses and give the public a little more time to provide feedback to supervisors.

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There was no need to rush the decision, she said.

Hagwood submitted his letter of resignation in September leaving three years, three months to fill of his term. Undersheriff Dean Canalia, who could have naturally moved up to fill the vacated position, is also retiring in December.

After more than two hours of responding to questions prepared earlier by supervisors, three members of the board chose to go ahead and select the new interim sheriff.

Supervisor Jeff Engel nominated Johns. Supervisor Sherrie Thrall seconded the nomination.

In the roll call vote, in which three supervisors had to vote yes for the motion to carry, Simpson chose not to vote. Supervisor Kevin Goss joined Engel and Thrall in voting for Johns.

Questions

Human Resources Director Nancy Selvage had 17 questions from supervisors to ask each of the three candidates. The three men were seated in alphabetical order at a table before the board.

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Supervisors followed the League of Women Voters format. Each candidate had three minutes to respond to each question.

Candidates included three sergeants with lengthy careers with the sheriff’s office. They included Johns, Sgt Carson Wingfield who is in charge of special operations in the sheriff’s office, and jail Commander Chad Hermann.

Other than meeting minimum qualifications, what related experience did the candidate have and why was he seeking the appointment?

Johns was first up and said he has 28 years with the department. Prior to that he was employed at Sierra Pacific Industries. He was also honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 1989.

Johns said he started as a deputy with the department. At that time he said he saw things that concerned him within the agency. When he was promoted to sergeant he thought he would have more say within the department, but that didn’t prove true, he told supervisors.

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As the patrol commander for the past three years he said, “Now as patrol commander things are going pretty well. I have ideas that I haven’t yet been able to accomplish.”

He concluded that he is concerned with public safety and wants to see it at the level he believes it should be.

Hermann said he began with classes in administrative justice, worked as a corrections officer and became a deputy in 2004. After becoming a sergeant, a field training officer and a SWAT team leader, he became jail commander.

When he was placed in charge of the jail he said it was under a federal consent decree and there were lots of problems. Programs he put in place alleviated most of those problems.

Hermann said that he oversees two budgets within the corrections department. There is the jail budget and the smaller inmate welfare fund budget. He said it was at zero when he started and he has managed to generate funding so that it is now $28,000.

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“This is my county. I was born and raised here. I have no intention of leaving,” Hermann said.

Wingfield said he’s worked for the sheriff’s office close to 25 years. He’s been a deputy, a training instructor and worked with the SWAT team. “I have been recognized for my leadership,” he said.

As a sergeant in charge of special programs, Wingfield is responsible for special training, animal control operations, and works hand-in-hand with the deputy chief of the Office of Emergency Services Nick Dawson.

Wingfield said he wanted the absolute best for the citizens of Plumas County with the money the sheriff’s department receives.

Candidates were asked about their knowledge and experience with OES, personnel management and budget preparation and management.

All three candidates have been involved in local disasters and trainings.

Wingfield, shares an office with OES’s deputy chief and has participated in almost everything Dawson has been involved in. He’s also been responsible for staffing an emergency center, he said.“Like Carson, I’ve worked closely with the OES director,” Johns said. He has been involved with every disaster in the county, he added. He also helped develop the OES planning book.

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When Johns became patrol commander he said he inherited a mess. Only two officers have left the department during his time as commander, something he took as a positive.

All three candidates have been involved in some level of the budget process.

What are the biggest issues that face law enforcement in Plumas County? What are the current challenges and what would be a plan of action?

It was Wingfield’s turn to respond first. He said the budget is the biggest challenge and is familiar with it. He said that it’s important to provide the absolute best service to Plumas County with what the department has. Wingfield said that it’s important to know where crimes are trending. Currently there is a significant increase in property crime.

Reporting issues for the entire staff will change dramatically in the next few years, Wingfield said. And the department needs to move forward to deal with those challenges.

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“Retention is a huge issue,” Johns said. Plumas County Sheriff’s Office can’t offer $30,000 signing bonuses like some departments or counties do to attract new officers.

With the state’s realignment practices in more recent years, Johns expressed frustration that officers can arrest someone and they’re right back out again.

“We’re going to fill up our substations,” Johns said. While the sheriff’s office and the jail are in Quincy — Portola, Greenville and Chester all have substations with limited or no staffing. At one time some of the facilities also had a holding cell.

Johns is interested in combating property crime. He’s also concerned with the amount of elderly fraud.

Hermann said they were all in agreement when it came to question three.

Upcoming legislation “will have a huge impact on the way we do business,” Hermann said.

He also briefly discussed various topics pertaining to mental health, the district attorney and social services and how they work in cooperation with the sheriff’s office.

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Hermann is for an approach that works with inmates so they have new ways to learn to become productive citizens and don’t become drains on the budget. He’s tired of things waiting until they become a massive issue.

Three programs that the sheriff’s office oversees: victim witness, animal control and cannabis code enforcement. The candidates were asked about their experience with these programs and did they see that department continuing with them?

Johns said that as patrol commander he already oversees victim witness. In talking with District Attorney David Hollister about victim witness, Johns indicated that Hollister is willing to take that program back. The DA said it was a good match.

Johns said that the DA’s office deals with victims much longer than the sheriff’s office can.

Johns also said he had been working with the cannabis code enforcement program “from day one.”

He said he would be looking at what other agencies around the state do with cannabis code enforcement and eradication.

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Johns said that in the two years they’ve had that program there’s already a change. The first year there was a total of 25 cases. Now there are fewer gardens. They’re also seeing growers that are willing to abate their own plants.

The significant problem this year is that they removed a lot of guns from the gardens.Hermann agreed that the victim witness program is a better fit with the DA’s office. They have the means to follow up as the case progresses through the court system.

Inmates now work at animal control cleaning and doing other routine jobs and that reduces costs. It also gives inmates something constructive to do.

Wingfield said he has been with the cannabis code enforcement from the beginning. He too has seen trends change in just the past two years. Cartels are moving to private property and are not so prevalent in the mountains on public lands.

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He also oversees animal control and it’s a good fit with the sheriff’s office.

What did the candidates see as the roll of law enforcement within mental health and the criminal justice system? Supervisors asked their opinions on jail-based Medication Assisted Treatment.

Hermann said the jail sees a lot of inmates with dual diagnosed mental health issues including drugs and alcohol. They now have a good relationship with behavioral health and have telemedicine where inmates can see a psychiatrist.

Wingfield said the role of law enforcement has changed enormously in the last five to 10 years.

Johns agreed with other comments. He said it will “not be as costly as if we continue to go down the road we’ve been going down.”

What does each candidate think of CCW permits (carry a concealed weapon) and the Second Amendment?

Wingfield said they didn’t have much in the way of crimes with guns. “We’re fairly rural and fairly liberal with issuing” them. He said there was no reason to change course.

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“I agree, it’s part of our society here,” Johns said. There are sports shooters, competition shooters and those who feel safer if they carry a weapon.

Johns foresees possible legislation in the state to curb this because so many people don’t want others to have guns.

Hermann agreed with his fellow officers.

Describe your involvement with the new jail.

Johns said that as the patrol commander he’s involved in the regular Monday morning meetings where the sheriff’s office, Supervisors Engel and Simpson, and other key people are involved in discussing the new jail plans.

Johns said he’s concerned that there are still things on the site where construction is to begin and he doesn’t know who will have to move them. He doesn’t want to dip into the $25 million grant to cover those kinds of costs.

Johns said he had also been talking to an independent contractor about keeping track of CGL expenses. CGL is the contractor that has the jail contract. He believes that would be beneficial in keeping costs inline with the budget.

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As the jail commander Hermann has been with process every step of the way.

Hermann disagreed with Johns’ thoughts about adding an oversight contractor. He said that just adds to the cost and CGL builds very costly projects worth billions and they can handle Plumas County’s comparatively small facility.

Wingfield said he is concerned with the time element and is aware that the more time they spend before building begins the more prices increase.

Where should the jail commander’s office be located?

Hermann said his office is in the administration building because there is no room in the present facility. He will have an office in the new jail.

Wingfield agreed that the present jail is too small for the commander’s office.

Johns said there wasn’t anything he could add.

What about the shortage of corrections officers and where deputies could fill in?

Wingfield said they like to keep the two branches separate, but they are mandated to keep the jail staffed.

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“I agree 100 percent,” Johns said. “We are obligated to conform with the consent decree” by the federal government.

Johns said that the reserve force or retired officers could possibly help staff the jail.

Title 15 mandates that the jail has to have a specific number of corrections officers. He said having deputies isn’t the optimal plan, but it could work.

What about the current organization of the sheriff’s office and would they return to fully staffed substations?

Johns, who already touched on re-staffing substations, was the first to respond.

Johns said he would eliminate one position in administration to free up some money for substations and to hire more deputies. He did not elaborate on which position is expendable or why.

He said that citizens deserve to have a deputy respond within an hour or a half hour.

“This is going to be a slow process,” he said. He believes there’s room in the budget for savings.

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Hermann agreed saying that community safety is important, but the department has to be financially responsible as well.

Wingfield said that staffing the substations was a fantastic idea in a perfect world but it isn’t a fiscal reality now.

Whom and how are officer-involved shootings investigated? Now the department does it with oversight from the DA’s office.

Hermann said it needs to be a transparent process with other agencies involved as needed.

Wingfield said the sheriff’s office has a memorandum of understanding with the DA and the CHP. The need has occurred twice in the last 10 years.

Johns said he talked to Hollister about the policy and the DA likes it the way it is, but there’s room for improvement.

Johns said they might expand it to include people from Butte and Lassen counties.

What about responding to requests when it comes to a suicidal situation?

Wingfield said that the new policy goes against the very grain of law enforcement officers. But at the same time they can’t afford to have the department sued over a suicide situation.

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Johns said that the current policy needed to be changed because departments were getting sued over the way they were handling these kinds of cases.

Hermann agreed that not responding to a possible suicide threat “still goes against every fiber.” but it is a necessary evil.

What about the county’s declining population and the possibility of reduced funding?

“I believe I could restructure the department with less administration and more deputies,” Johns explained.

Fifteen years ago they didn’t need all of the administrative positions, he said. Now there are so many meetings and so many state requirements to manage. “I need more deputies,” he added.

Johns said that officers would continue to wear the uniforms they wear right now and would go back to having more deputies. With the sheriff and undersheriff retiring that frees up some money.

Hermann said they have to save money at every corner every day. Restructuring might be an answer.

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Wingfield said the key component is understanding the demographics. The population has different needs from law enforcement.

What about body cameras?

Hermann said he didn’t have a problem with them. They use voice recorders on a routine basis.

Wingfield said the concept was initially offensive to him. He thought it was a move to catch cops doing something wrong. But just the reverse has been proven true.

Johns said it’s been shown that they do reduce liability. Some local officers are wondering when this department is going to get them.

But funding is an issue and policies need to be in place on how and where to store the information, Johns said. The department would need the infrastructure to handle it. “I’m lucky if I can make a call from Chester some days,” Johns added.

What about California’s changes under some of the propositions dealing with criminal law? As sheriff, would you continue to enforce lower level drug offenses?

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If the lower level offenses aren’t managed, they become bigger problems, Wingfield explained. He added that citizens and visitors are here for quality of life and he couldn’t see compromising that.

“Yes, absolutely,” said Johns. On training days they now talk about what’s going on and the topic comes up. He added that currently they’re not doing as much as he thinks they should.

Hermann said simply that if “you permit you promote.”

What would you do during the first 90 days as sheriff?

“I’ve already discussed it a little bit with supervisors,” Johns said. He wouldn’t begin making changes that didn’t need to be changed. He was in favor of a slow transition that wouldn’t disrupt services.

Johns said the department could do a better job.

He wants to talk to corrections officers to see why they keep leaving. He said he did that with the deputies in the past.

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He said that the sergeants and deputies are incredibly bright and might have ideas.

Hermann said there is a lot of work that needs to be done and he wanted a smooth transition. He said the department is not only losing the sheriff and undersheriff, but also the OES leader. The staff isn’t sure what is going to happen and they’re worried, he said.

At this point County Council Craig Settlemire said that there is a lot of anxiety. The public and the county needs time to exhale, he said.

If appointed, what qualities would each want in an undersheriff?

Hermann said there needed to be someone who was committed to his or her craft.

Wingfield said they would have to have the same dedication he has.

Johns said, “I’m looking for the guy who’s just like me.” He wants someone who would step up and help.

Discussion

Supervisor Kevin Goss, as chairperson of the Board of Supervisors, said he’s used to them making decisions in closed session. An interview in public was a novel situation.

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Goss added that it’s not too often that they have three qualified individuals to choose from.

Taking responses from the public, Goss recognized Jason Christian who is hoping to be appointed as supervisor to fill Michael Sanchez’s vacant seat. Christian said he thought it would be better if the board waited until November to see if there’s a governor’s appointment in order to avoid a tie vote. It would also allow the new appointee to help in the decision making.

With the public comment period closed, Simpson said there was a lot to digest. “I would like to propose to take some time and not make a decision today.”

Simpson said she wanted the public to read Feather Publishing’s newpapers’ account and get feedback from the public about the candidates’ responses to supervisors’ questions. She recommended bringing it back in November for a vote.

“I don’t agree,” Supervisor Jeff Engel said. He added that it’s a hard decision and he didn’t think it was fair to put the employees through more turmoil for “another week or another month.”

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He insisted they vote and be done with it.

“I agree with Jeff,” said Supervisor Sherrie Thrall. She said she’s been in a similar situation and that it was very distressing. She said the turmoil had already gone on for a month and it shouldn’t go any longer. “We’ve all worked with these individuals.”

Engel reminded everyone that the appointment would serve for the next three years, three months and then the residents could decide whom they wanted as sheriff.

Simpson tried to encourage supervisors to wait just a little longer. “I think you’re being unfair to the people,” she said, meaning the people who would have voted for sheriff in an election year.

Engel fired back that it wasn’t an election and said, “You are being unfair to prolong this.”

At length Engel made the motion to choose Johns and Thrall seconded that motion.