Grand Jury

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman confirms investigation in 2011

By Shea Johnson
Staff Writer
Posted Jul. 1, 2015 at 12:31 PM
Updated Jul 1, 2015 at 6:18 PM

SAN BERNARDINO — The San Bernardino County Grand Jury acknowledged “issues” Wednesday related to the Sheriff’s Department and its seizure of vehicles later sold at lien sales, seemingly giving some credence to whistle-blower allegations that deputies routinely flipped impounded vehicles for personal gain.

In its annual report, the Grand Jury recommended the Sheriff’s Department “continue to monitor the towing issues” after jurors probed the department’s policies and procedures regarding employees purchasing impounded vehicles that had been seized during an investigation. The Grand Jury reviewed towing logs and the department’s contracts with private towing companies, as well as Department of Motor Vehicle regulations.

But the surprisingly small focus within the 122-page report given to the alleged towing corruption did not indicate jurors found any specific wrongdoing, only pointing out that the Sheriff’s Department “appears to be aware of issues regarding towing and sale of both towed and seized vehicles and has taken steps to resolve them.”

Jurors said that an addendum had been added in February 2013 to one unspecified sheriff’s station’s Tow Service Agreement — the terms and conditions between them and tow companies — that appeared to directly address the allegations.

“All companies participating in the TSA will no longer be allowed or permitted to sell and or give vehicles, motorcycles, motorized vehicles and or any other property directly related to the towing businesses that are currently enrolled in the TSA to a Sheriff’s Department employee and or their immediately family,” the addendum read.

But the report also said this addendum has since been deleted.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller said the deletion was likely an error and an addendum in the same spirit has been added to every TSA since 2014. The addendum does, however, allow vehicles to be sold to sheriff’s employees or family members with authorization from local station commanders.

In March 2014, the following revision was also added to the department’s manual: “… Deputy Sheriff’s frequently seize the personal property of citizens. The act of seizing another’s property is one of the most invasive and litigated activities by law enforcement. In order to avoid any appearance that a seizure was for personal gain, employees shall not possess property that has been seized by the department. This includes the purchase of seized property by a third party for an employee’s use.”

Miller said officials had first enacted an informal department policy after a June 2011 administrative investigation into two deputies who had apparently purchased “a few vehicles.” She called the investigation “thorough” and said the appropriate action had been taken, although she could not specify any further.

She also said she was not aware of any other issues since then.

“At that time, there was no department policy from keeping that from occurring,” she said. “It’s not against the law … (but) the department does not want to have the appearance of any type of impropriety or any type of wrongdoing, so the decision was made we we’re going to develop a department policy.”

According to the Grand Jury report, if state DMV rules are followed, there is nothing preventing a tow yard from lien selling a vehicle to whomever they choose.

The report comes almost a year after a lawsuit filed by one retired and two current motorcycle deputies last working at the Victorville Station. In a court filing previously reported by the Daily Press, retired deputy Tim Jordan said he was retaliated against after he uncovered a systematic scheme sustained by close connections that was being covered up by higher-ranking officials.

The Sheriff’s Department has denied all the allegations in the lawsuit in response.

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