California sheriff: Killing suspects ‘better financially’ than wounding them

A California sheriff up for re-election has found his words coming back to haunt him after a local police union dug up a 12-year-old video in which he stated it was “better financially” for law enforcement officers to kill suspects than to injure them.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood made the statement in a snippet of video posted on Facebook Monday by the Kern County Detention Officers Association. The short segment was taken from a longer video shot when Youngblood, who was first elected as sheriff in 2006, was answering questions at an endorsement meeting during his first campaign.

Kevin Dees, the president of the union, told the Bakersfield Californian that the statements were found as he and his staff were searching the video for campaign promises that the sheriff has failed to deliver on. The KCDOA is backing Youngblood's challenger, Justin Fleeman, who is also chief deputy.

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Youngblood, who is seen in the video seated at a table, was answering a question regarding deputy training when he said that detention officers are trained more extensively than they used to be because of the cost the county incurs when an inmate is injured or killed by a deputy.

“You know what happens when a guy makes a bad shooting on somebody (and) kills them,” Youngblood said. “Three million bucks and the family goes away, after a long back and forth, back and forth.”

He said it is a “totally different ball game” when a deputy-involved death happens in a jail because it could involve an inmate in restraints, as well as multiple deputies.

“That (cost) is absolutely huge,” Youngblood said. “It’s no different than when a deputy shoots someone in the streets. Which way do you think is better financially -- to cripple them or kill them -- for the county?” he asked.

A man off-camera replied, “Kill them.”

“Absolutely,” Youngblood said. “Because if they’re crippled, we get to take care of them for life. And that cost goes way up.”

A five-part series by The Guardian in 2015 called Kern County's deputies and police officers "America's deadliest police," citing data that showed the county had more people killed by law enforcement officers per capita than any other U.S. county. Six of the 13 people killed by law enforcement that year died at the hands of Bakersfield city police officers.

In that same time frame, nine people were killed by New York police officers in a city with nearly 10 times the residents of Kern County, which had a population of just under 875,000 in 2015. The New York Police Department also had 23 times the police officers patrolling the streets than Kern County did.

The Guardian's series prompted a civil rights investigation into both departments by the California Department of Justice, which the Los Angeles Times reported last year remains ongoing.

The American Civil Liberties Union also last year called for reforms in both the Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff's Office, citing its own study that found that officers and deputies have been involved in "a disturbing pattern of shootings, beatings and canine attacks" over the years, the Times said.

The ACLU study found that, since 2013, Bakersfield police officers had shot and killed 19 people. A quarter of those shot by the department's officers were unarmed.

The study also found that a significant percentage of the people shot by both agencies exhibited signs of mental illness.

Read the entire ACLU study here.

Chris Ashley, director of the KCDOA, told the Guardian that the union is "disgusted" by Youngblood's 2006 comments.

"But we have been disgusted with Donny Youngblood's leadership for more than a decade," Ashley told the newspaper.

Ashley said the entire video from 2006 contained additional “concerning” comments by Youngblood but that the union was not yet prepared to release the full recording.

Youngblood told the Californian that his remarks were taken out of context. He said that the conversation pertained to the 2005 in-custody beating death of James Moore.

Moore, 30, was beaten to death over the span of hours in a struggle that sometimes included up to 20 corrections officers at a time, the newspaper reported in 2010. Three deputies were ultimately charged with murder in his death.

One of the deputies, Ralph Contreras, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. The judge who sentenced him pointed out that Contreras repeatedly struck Moore, who was shackled for most of the beating, multiple times, including with a police baton, and that as Moore lay on a gurney afterward, he put his hands over Moore’s nose and mouth to prevent him from getting air.

Another deputy, Daniel Lindini, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison, the Californian reported. The third deputy, Roxanne Fowler, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge and was sentenced to time served.

Youngblood told the Californian Monday that in the video, he was talking about the expense to the county that comes when a deputy commits a crime. The funds diverted to lawsuits takes away the ability to add deputies and provide raises, he said.

“I’ve never inferred that we should shoot to kill,” Youngblood said.

He did take responsibility for what he said, however.

"Do I wish I would have said it differently? I do," Youngblood told the Californian. "They weren't offended back then. Still, they are my words and I own them."

Despite the comments Youngblood made during the endorsement meeting, the KCDOA endorsed him over his opposition. Dee said that endorsement during the general election came about because the union considered Youngblood the “lesser of two evils.”

Fleeman told the newspaper that he learned of the video Monday and was shocked by Youngblood’s comments.

"People are not trash," Fleeman said. "They are human beings."

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