RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Two seats are up for grabs for the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, and some community members are looking at the open seats as a way to implement an independent oversight committee for the sheriff’s office. 

What You Need To Know

  • District 1 and District 3 seats for the Riverside County Board of Supervisors are open

  • Calls for an oversight committee for the Sheriff's office have been growing 

  • California law gives the board of supervisors the authority to implement an oversight committee

  • Voters are now looking to elect candidates that will represent ther views on this issue

In the past couple years, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has come under scrutiny for having deputies arrested and an increase of in-custody deaths. 

As a result, some community members have called on the current board of supervisors to implement an independent oversight committee. The push has been unsuccessful and now brought the issue to the forefront of the current board of supervisor race for Districts 1 and 3. 

District 1, primarily making up the cities of Riverside, Perris and Wildomar, has four candidates: Jose Medina, Richard Roth, Gracie Torres and Debbie Walsh. District 3 from Anza to Temecula has three candidates: incumbent Chuck Washington, Jack Guerrero and Jonathan Ingram. 

Lifelong Riverside resident Chani Beeman is one of those voters that has made sheriff accountability her main issue. Beeman helped create the Community Police Review for the City of Riverside Police Department in the ‘80s and said a similar program for the sheriff’s office has been a long time coming. 

“It really comes down to good governance,” said Beeman. “We give law enforcement the right to take our rights away. We’re giving them that authority and with that comes tremendous responsibility. And it is also our responsibility to make sure it’s being exercised properly.”

This fiscal year, the sheriff’s office has a billion-dollar budget, making up roughly one-eighth of the county’s combined budget. Beeman said she and other voters are advocating for the county to establish budgetary oversight and to separate the role of coroner and sheriff. Her main concern is that it creates a conflict of interest for in-custody deaths. 

California law allows the sheriff also to also be the coroner and public administrator and gives the board of supervisors the authority to implement an independent oversight body. 

Some of the candidates have begun addressing the issue after three federal lawsuits were filed in the past year against the sheriff’s office by families of inmates who died while in custody. One of the men overdosed, and two were killed by fellow inmates, according to the lawsuits. 

Last February, Attorney General Rob Bonta launched a civil investigation to “determine whether the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing amid deeply concerning allegations relating to conditions of confinement in its jails facilities, excessive force and other misconduct.” This was after the county reported 18 inmate deaths in 2022, up from the historical average of nine. So far this year, the department has reported 13 in-custody deaths. 

Sheriff Chad Bianco responded to Bonta’s investigation through a video he posted online, where he said, “This investigation is based on nothing but false and misleading statements and straight-out lies from activists, including their attorneys. This will prove to be a complete waste of time and resources.”

In a statement to Spectrum News, Bianco also said, “It is nothing but political garbage and complete misuse and abuse of the justice system for political gain.”

Riverside resident Nicole Johnson is against the calls for oversight and concerned about the potential financial impact of separating the sheriff’s roles. 

“I feel for the families, but if I have to take the number value, strictly vote, number value, that is not reason to oversee and spend more taxpayer money,” Johnson said. 

The current board of supervisors recently requested the Riverside County CEO to evaluate potential costs and benefits of a separation of the offices of the sheriff from the coroner and public administrator. 

However, Johnson said she doesn’t expect it to change her mind, adding that there are other factors to take into consideration. 

“What were overdoses, what were suicides, what was natural causes, how many lives were saved versus how many lives were lost?” Johnson said. 

According to Bianco, in 2022, of the seven overdose deaths, they saved 110 inmates and saved 96 from suicide.  

For Johnson, she said this feels like an anti-law enforcement movement, to which Beeman says is quite the opposite. 

“This isn’t an anti-law enforcement movement. It is a recognition that transparency provides a safer environment to conduct law enforcement,” Beeman said. 

Both voters hope that whoever takes that supervisor seat will work in their favor.