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Is Michael Johnson the Sheriff to Rescue and Restore the Dysfunctional Shasta County Sheriff’s Office?

Facebook photo by Aunti Carin.

Unbeknownst to all but a few insiders, for more than a year it’s been like a horror movie inside the Shasta County Board of Supervisors chambers. As it turned out, not only was the monster in our midst all along, but he was there ostensibly to serve and protect us from other monsters; extremists who converged upon the board chambers to yell, scream, curse, mock, ridicule and deliver graphic threats that mentioned ultimatums, blood, bullets, nooses and worse.

The monster in this latest horrific episode of Shasta County government is none other than Shasta County Deputy Sheriff Greg Walker of Shasta County’s Civil Unit, a subset of the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department.

The purpose of the Civil Unit, as described on the county’s website, is to assist the public with service of process and enforcement of court orders such as unlawful detainers and monetary judgments. Walker, for all his macho keyboard warrioring, is not a stereotypical boots-on-the ground deputy, per se, but works on the lighter side of law enforcement.

As a matter of fact, perhaps you recognize Walker as one of the two deputies who routinely stands at the back of the Board of Supervisors meetings.

We know both deputies’ names now, and that Walker is the taller of the two. He’s routinely joined at supervisor meetings by his fellow deputy Will Gardner, who, by the way, is married to Shasta County Superior Court Judge Molly Bigelow.

You may also recall when A News Cafe reported that Walker and Gardner hugged Carlos Zapata, leader of the pro-recall group Red White and Blueprint as Zapata entered the board chambers on a day when supervisors Chimenti, Moty and Rickert were expected to be served with notice to recall papers.

The hugs were not just baffling and inappropriate, but they called into question the deputies’ ability to protect all citizens. Today, Zapata’s most renowned for a temporary restraining order filed against him after his assault on comedian Nathan Pinkney, not to mention Zapata’s upcoming trial in the wake of the District Attorney’s charges.

Typically, the deputies don’t budge unless requested, such as what happened in October, when pro-recaller Richard Gallardo attempted a failed citizen’s arrest on the entire board of supervisors, plus county staff. Then-board chair District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert called upon Walker and Gardner to escort Gallardo from the premises.

Last Tuesday, most audience members, including staff, were unaware that deputy Walker was the subject of District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty’s blistering comments. Moty beseeched his fellow supervisors to join him in a declared state of emergency within the obviously troubled Sheriff’s Department. Moty said an immediate appointment of a new sheriff was crucial, rather than sticking with the interim sheriff, who served in the same administration as recently retired Sheriff Eric Magrini:

“I’m very concerned about some information that one of the deputies had on his Facebook,” Moty said. “A citizen filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office within hours. That deputy apparently was aware of who filed the complaint, and actually then went online and made comments that borderline were veiled threats. That tells me that there’s something going on that concerns me, that someone could find out about a complaint from a citizen within hours, and then that person would respond … That is totally out of line for a deputy, or an officer to do that, that’s conduct unbecoming, let alone obviously some other violations within department guidelines and regulations. And I think that is an emergency, and I am very concerned that this is happening right now. I’m very concerned.”

Moty’s words, spoken haltingly, were regarding threats made by Walker against Chico State Professor Shawn Schwaller, who’d researched and published an exposé of sorts here on A News Cafe about a variety of north state law enforcement officers’ stunningly unprofessional and inappropriate behaviors and social media posts. Schwaller’s first article revealed the disturbing findings, primarily discovered on officers’ social media pages. Schwaller’s second article, one that was not planned, disclosed the jarring aftermath of his first article, including thinly veiled threats from Walker mere hours after filing a citizen’s complaint about Walker’s alarming public posts.

 

The “straight, white, and proud” meme shared by Walker.

Another post about fighting for “our country” where Walker claims that going to Portland “sounds intriguing.”

Walker: Far worse than first thought

Since then, A News Cafe has received additional examples of yet more graphic Walker social media posts and memes, including one in which Walker refers to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (known by her initials AOC), in sexually violent terms.

“Too bad they didn’t throw her to the wolves,” Walker wrote. “bitch deserves to be violated in sooo many ways.” Walker followed his statement with a thumbs up.

Additional social media evidence demonstrates Walker’s open affiliation and friendships with a Who’s Who of pro-recall groups and individuals, and militia members, including Red White and Blueprint leader Carlos Zapata, recall-leader Elissa McEuen, Cottonwood Militia leader Woody Clendenen, Red White and Blueprint funder/producer Jon Knight, and pro-recall Supervisor Patrick Jones, to name a few. One post proved that Walker attended a Red White and Blueprint pro-recall fundraiser at Harmon Ranch in Palo Cedro.

As Moty spoke, Walker stood at the back of board chambers as usual. Why Walker still holds a position with the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department is a mystery, but then, considering the current state of the Sheriff’s Department culture of acceptance of some unsavory law enforcement players, at this point, it would be a bigger surprise if Walker had been removed.

Knowing what we now know about Walker, for him to stand guard over the Board of Supervisors meetings is akin to the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse.

Also noteworthy, when Schwaller filed a complaint about Walker’s public social media content, Schwaller spoke with Shasta County Sheriff Sergeant Garet Baldwin, who asked Schwaller some questions, including one about gay memes, which struck Schwaller as odd at the time.

“He asked me how I thought a heterosexual deputy would feel if a gay deputy posted on their Facebook page that they were proud to be gay,” recalled Schwaller in his article.

Interestingly, this line of questioning is reminiscent of one of Walker’s social media memes that once again features a Confederate flag.

Beyond Walker

Yes, it was astonishing  to learn that the very Deputy Walker paid to supposedly serve and protect county staff and citizens during often tense and raucous Board of Supervisors meetings was the same Deputy Walker who’s also openly posted racist, white-pride, sexually violent, pro-recall, Confederate-flag-adoring hate-speech-filled memes, and likewise, this is the same Deputy Walker who threatened Schwaller for writing a piece that exposed Walker’s true nature. How curious, since Walker hasn’t been shy about expressing his beliefs before now.

I mention Walker because other related events took place at the July 20 Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting last Tuesday. By related, I’m referring to discussions and votes that would ultimately decide how to proceed since the recent departure of former Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini. Former Sheriff Magrini resigned before the end of his term to accept a higher-paying job offer as assistant to county CEO Matt Pontes. This controversial move has left an already listing Sheriff’s Department rudderless and without direction.

During the meeting, supervisors and public speakers alike disagreed on a number of points: Should the board appoint a sheriff, or should it take no action and allow Deputy Sheriff Jason Barnhart to remain as the interim sheriff until the June 2022 election? Should the board appoint current Anderson Police Department Chief Michael Johnson to the position of Shasta County Sheriff? Finally, if the board did appoint Johnson, how much should they pay him?

For all the many disagreements voiced during last Tuesday’s board meeting, there was one point of nearly unanimous agreement among even the most disparate groups — the left and the right, recallers and anti-recallers, the vaccinated and the would-rather-die-than-be-vaccinated — among law enforcement professionals and lay people alike: Eric Magrini was a terrible sheriff.

Even many of Magrini’s own deputies didn’t like or respect him, noted in no-confidence letters written by the Shasta County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.

For that matter, there wasn’t exactly a choir of people singing the praises of Magrini’s predecessor either, former Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko. More about Bosenko in a minute.

Mad about Magrini

After Magrini was appointed to the job as sheriff in Dec. 2019, it took some time before so many people arrived at the general consensus that Magrini was a dud sheriff. It wasn’t as if he’d campaigned for that position. Rather, his career skids were greased for him to easily assume his position via a recommendation by his then-boss, former Sheriff Bosenko, who grabbed the golden retirement ring and opted for an early December 2019 departure. This seemed a bizarre move on Bosenko’s part, considering he squeaked into a June 2018 election win over John Greene, who’d come out of his retirement as a former Shasta County Sheriff’s department sergeant who’d formerly worked for Bosenko, to run against his old boss.

Speculations have ebbed and flowed regarding why Bosenko would cut and run from his just-won campaign. Maybe the close election was too great a blow to his ego. Or maybe Bosenko couldn’t take the heat over some major cold (and getting colder) unrelated cases. First came the July 2, 2015 disappearance of 6-month-old Ember Skye Graham, and second, the Nov. 2, 2016 disappearance of then-34-year-old Sherri Papini, who inexplicably returned 22 days after her abrupt and dramatic departure.

Actually, those speculations are small taters compared to some of the other rumors, which are as yet unconfirmed, and thus, unreportable. Yet.

Speculations aside, had Bosenko remained in office, he’d be facing a re-election in June of 2022. And likewise, had Magrini not stepped down prematurely to step up, up and away to a lofty new executive position created just for him as Shasta County’s assistant CEO — earning more pay, and ostensibly with more responsibility — he would have also faced the June 2022 election. It’s as if Shasta County sheriffs are allergic to the June 2022 election.

Since Magrini’s departure from his sheriff position, the work as acting sheriff goes to interim sheriff /undersheriff Jason Barnhart. It’s just the way the chain of command works.

As Bosenko was leaving his job, he said nice things about then-undersheriff Magrini. The Shasta County Board of Supervisors took Bosenko’s word for it. Bingo. Magrini  was appointed sheriff, a fact that gave credence to pro-recaller McEuen’s point: If the board made a bad appointment before, what’s to say they won’t make the same mistake again?

Early on in his short career as sheriff, Magrini was the darling of pro-recallers and militia groups alike.

We know that former Sheriff Magrini gave the green light to the 2020 Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo, evidenced by a KRCR news story in which Magrini delivered a series of long-winded excuses about how the Sheriff’s department was taking more of an “educational” position over enforcement. This was despite the state mandate against large gatherings during the pandemic. Interestingly, that heavily edited KRCR interview of a smiling Magrini was the handiwork of none other than Courtney Kreider, before she lost her KRCR job and hooked up with the Red White and Blueprint group as its media person, a position that seemed to evaporate soon after the Red White and Blueprint’s Harmon Ranch fundraiser.

In June I wrote about the disconnect between Sheriff Eric Magrini’s version and some militia members’ recollections who claimed they’d been in contact with Magrini before and during the June 2020 Redding protest, something Magrini later backpedaled on, putting some distance between himself and the militia that hurt of of the militia guys’ feelings.

At the time, according to militia member Jesse Lane, he’d told Magrini his people would be there to help “keep the peace”, to which Magrini said it would be great if the militia were there to do that; a stronger statement than what Magrini recalled. Either way, a rift was born.

Militia member Jesse Lane at the the June 2020 Redding protest, there, according to Lane, with the sheriff’s blessing to help “keep the peace”.

The Shasta County Sheriff’s Department wasn’t the only local law enforcement agency with a militia-friendly connection. Woody Clendenen, head of the Cottonwood Militia, claimed that, according to some Redding Police officers, officers would have “gassed” Redding protesters in June of 2020 had it not been for the militia’s “help”. This claim was despite the fact that the protesters were non-violent, and that as a line of armed RPD officers stood in riot gear, many protesters could be heard yelling, “Keep the peace!” and “don’t shoot,” and “Walk with us,” and “RPD!”.

If it’s true that RPD was prepared to gas peaceful protesters, then obviously, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department is not the only law enforcement agency that needs a thorough house-cleaning. But that’s a Redding City Council issue; another topic for another day.

Redding Police Department officers decked out in rior gear face the peaceful protesters. Photo by Annelise Pierce.

During those early pandemic months, pro-recaller Elissa McEuen was a huge Magrini fan.

A then bashful Elissa McEuen holds a sign outside the Shasta County Sheriff’s office on May 1. Photo by Steve DuBois

Oh, the adoring looks, the smiles, the winks and blinks, the “I’ll call you later” promises by Magrini to McEuen after she’d used a bullhorn to blast her message to the supervisors last year. A memorable detail about that day captured in this photo below is the fact that then-chair Supervisor Mary Rickert asked Magrini to please speak to the protesters and ask the mob to quiet down so the supervisors could continue the county’s business. Magrini made a show of walking to the back of the room where he opened the door, which looked from Rickert’s seat as if Magrini was complying. Instead, Magrini didn’t relay a single word as directed by Rickert, and rather chatted with McEuen. Some might call that a red-flag moment.

Now, the love is clearly gone, and McEuen cannot find a single positive thing to say about Magrini, leaving one to wonder when did things sour between Magrini and the recallers, and why?

At some point, Magrini gained a reputation as a do-nothing sheriff, someone who, like a kid who hates pulling weeds and cleaning toilets, flat-out ignored his most unsavory duties, whether it was skipping enforcing state-mandated pandemic restrictions or refusing to crack down on illegal marijuana growers. One perk for Magrini was when he applied for and won a chance to play the part of a real sheriff on a yet-to-be released “Yellowstone” episode, so that’s something.

Former Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini, playing the part of a real sheriff for “Yellowstone”.

Bosekno, a Constitutionalist/Oath-Keeper-comfy sheriff

In January of 2013, then-Sheriff Bosenko was listed in an article as as among 90 anti-gun-regulation sheriffs who pledged to ignore “Obama gun control”.

And although I cannot confirm whether Bosenko (or Magrini, for that matter) are members of the Oath Keepers, Bosenko received a public thank you that suggested that Bosenko is, in fact, an Oath Keeper.

One article’s author weighed in about these “Constitutionalist” sheriffs, many of whom were also members of the Oath Keepers.

“There are over 3,000 counties in the U.S., meaning the 90 county sheriffs who have signed on with the CSPOA represent, uh, three percent. (Thanks to the emailer for pointing this out!)”

No. 26 on this list of Constitutionalist Sheriffs, including Oathkeepers, then-Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko. Note other neighboring county sheriff on this list, including No. 21 from Siskiyou County, No. 28 from Tehama County, No. 29 from Lassen County, and No’s. 22 and 34 from Humboldt County.

No wonder that this selective-enforcement mindset was such a proud part of the Shasta County Sheriff’s culture that when the pandemic hit, then-Sheriff Magrini adopted an education-not-enforcement position when it came to complying with the state-ordered covid-19 mandates. However, the joke was on the citizens, as Magrini and his fellow law-enforcement compatriot Redding Police Chief Bill Schueller gave only lip service to the virtues of education during the pandemic, with nary an educational word delivered.

Public comments

Last Tuesday, a few members of the public came forward to speak about how to proceed with regard to the sheriff situation, and whether the supervisors should do nothing and wait for the June 2022 election, or appoint a sheriff.

Ray Thomas of District 3 urged the board to proceed with an appointment.

“I think that for the leadership that we need in this county, you do need to make the appointment,” Thomas said. “Make the best choice you can, and please adopt the salary resolution that’s before you. We need to recruit and retain the best sheriff that we can.”

A man with white hair, a Hawaiian shirt and a photo pinned to his shirt of former Sheriff Magrini with a red line through the photo, suggested that the board not appoint a sheriff, but instead go to the Sheriff’s Department staff and ask for their input.

“I would go back to the department that said they have no confidence in the guy that you chose,” he said. “So it’s simple, I think. But if I was up there, I would try to think, who do the people want. …  Go to the department, and see who they want. Then let the people decide on the election, when it comes up.”

Jones favors waiting for June 2022 election

Supervisor Jones was the lone standout among the supervisors in favor of leaving the acting/interim sheriff Barnhart in place and waiting for the June 2022 election, though Jones was quick to say there was nothing personal against Johnson. Jones said waiting for an election would give time for the public to vet the candidates. Besides, Jones said that by appointing a sheriff, it gives an unfair advantage to the sitting incumbent sheriff. Jones said he believed that allowing the undersheriff to remain in place would be the solution to many current problems.

“I really want a sheriff not to be beholding to this board or the CAO. I want the sheriff to be beholding to the public, and the only way that can be done is an election. I think the undersheriff can perform the roles of sheriff. If we can simply let it be known that an election will be coming and allow the natural process to carry out so that the public can vet for our next Shasta County Sheriff. I think that would go a long way to solving a lot of the problems that we’re experiencing right now.

A rare moment of disagreement between Jones and Baugh

Supervisor Baugh, who lives in Anderson, whose district includes parts of Anderson, and whose wife is the Anderson City Council mayor, was the most enthusiastic in his recommendation for the board to appoint Anderson Police Chief Johnson asap.

In fact, in a clear departure from Baugh’s usual lock-step vote with Jones, Baugh openly disagreed with Jones, who believed it best to let the people choose a sheriff in the June 2022 election. Baugh said he didn’t want it to be a case of leaving status quo at the Sheriff’s Department, especially since interim sheriff Barnhart had no intention of applying for the job, and had stated zero desire to be sheriff.

Next, Baugh seemed to hesitate, but forged ahead with unfavorable comments about the Sheriff’s Department:

“So, we have  — and I’ll just say it. We have a Sheriff’s Department that is a mess. If we don’t do something today, we are approving the current mess in that department, and leaving it in the care of a man who has stated he does not want the position. It doesn’t make any sense. Should people elect a new sheriff? Absolutely. But right now we’re dealing with our current situation.

We need to put a person in there who is not intimidated by an elected board of supervisors that understands that the job comes with its own ability to make decisions and lead the department. We need to have the people who work for the department, the soldiers on the ground, know that they have a leader that is willing to listen to them; to take on all of the challenges … We need to have somebody who has the respect of the department, the respect of the people on the ground.

Right now, if we leave what’s there, that department is going to continue to suffer and decline in my mind, and those great working people that we have employed in the Sheriff’s department will slowly but surely find other departments to work for because they are not being appreciated and they’re not being led. That’s being pretty blunt, but that’s where we’re at.

If we leave it as it is today, we are literally saying, ‘Go ahead, and we don’t care about this department.’ So, I’m not willing to do that. I would like to simply dispense with all of the pretense. We have an applicant who has not only the ability but has the proven history to be able to take an department and completely reverse what’s happening to make it the best. That’s my intention, if there’s members of the board that are willing to support that. I think that to pretend anything else would just be silly.”

Baugh referred to a glowing letter that was read during the  meeting, written by the Anderson Police Association that praised Johnson. The signers expressed sorrow at the prospect of losing Johnson as chief, but on balance, they were happy for the county at large because they knew Johnson would do an exemplary job for the good of all citizens.

Baugh was effusive in his praise of Johnson.

“Here’s what you have. You just don’t get this, folks. You don’t get an association that sends a letter saying, ‘This is the best guy. We love him. We would like to have him remain our chief. But for the better of a community as a whole, we’re telling you that this is the man.’ That is rare. I cannot recall that happening ever, ever, ever in my service, either on the Anderson City Council or on the Shasta County Board of Supervisors. I bring that to light because it’s rare.”

Moty clarifies a few points

Supervisor Moty took exception to Supervisor Jones’ assertion that if the board appointed a sheriff now, then the public wouldn’t have the opportunity to elect a sheriff; while also disputing Jones’ statement that an appointed sheriff is a beholden sheriff:

“I think having someone appointed does not make him beholding to us because, as the county council has told us on many times that when we appoint someone, then it is as if they were elected, and they are no longer responsible to us as the appointed. They are the same as being elected. They have the same rights, same responsibilities, same obligations. And I think we just need to move forward and get somebody in place today because we’ve heard the public say many times just one issue — just one issue is the marijuana thing. Quite frankly, Sheriff Bosenko would not enforce that. Sheriff Magrini chose not to enforce that at a high level. We’ve been very, very frustrated with that.”

Moty corrected Jones for what Moty said was a false statement that it was the board’s fault for the lack of Sheriff’s Department enforcement of the illegal marijuana grows:

“I think it’s important to note that a lot of people, whether rightfully or wrongfully, want to blame the board of supervisors for the illegal marijuana grows. We have an ordinance that we put in place, but it’s not our responsibility to enforce it. It’s law enforcement, and it’s code enforcement. And code enforcement can’t go to some of these spots if law enforcement doesn’t go with them. And I know I have, on many occasions, talked with our former CEO and our current CEO about ways to provide law enforcement services to our code enforcement, but we haven’t got the previous sheriffs to do that, and we need to move forward quickly. And I just will say with what I’ve seen lately, with some of the situations involving some of our personnel, we need a strong sheriff now more than ever.”

Later, Moty circled back to the topic and said that Jones didn’t understand the role of an elected sheriff.

“This board has no authority to direct him in how he conducts his job. The only thing we can do is control his budget. We have told him many times, both of the previous sheriffs, that we wanted enforcement. You are just inaccurate with what you’re saying Mr. Jones. I’m sorry.”

Rickert rebukes Jones, too

Supervisor Rickert agreed with Moty in terms of a desire to choose a strong sheriff, someone who would also take on the illegal marijuana grows, which is a serious matter.

“We have an organized crime problem in this county, and we need a strong leader at the helm; someone that’s going to take hold and move us forward and mitigate and curb some of this crime. And I truly feel very strongly that we need to appoint someone as soon as possible.”

Like Moty, Rickert was irritated that Jones blamed supervisors (except himself) for the lack of illegal marijuana-grow enforcement. Her exasperation was clear as she described how she’s worked over the years to gain some help from the sheriff.

“Since I’ve been in office, I have been contacted by constituents about marijuana. I have tried relentlessly to get the ear of first, it was Sheriff Bosenko. I’m sure he would tell you that I constantly, and constantly and constantly contacted him for help. I can’t just slap on a gun and go out and arrest people myself. The sheriff has to do that job, but I certainly was very, very proactive about pointing out all the different issues that there were throughout my district with illegal grows.

I take umbrage in the insinuation that I did nothing. That is totally inaccurate. I’m really upset about that and you can ask Eric (Magrini). I did the same with him and our code enforcement officer will confirm. I’ve spoken with our code enforcement officer over, and over and over again. How do we get a hold of somebody that can help him to eradicate these grows? I want to clarify the record that that was totally misinformation. I have done everything I physically possibly can in my capacity as a board member, but I do not have the authority over the sheriff to demand that he go out and do his job. He has that ability to make his own decisions.”

Rickert also agreed with Moty about a sense of urgency to have a new sheriff appointed as soon as possible.

“I do think it’s an emergency. To follow up on your comment, I do think that somebody definitely needs to come in and look at the situation in the sheriff’s department and find out what’s really going on there. And I do think we need to do it sooner rather than later; the community deserves it. And for the record, also, the vast majority of people are telling me, get it done now. Clean house now, and get it cleaned up.”

Rickert made her pitch for choosing a sheriff sooner than later, and pointed out that if anything, appointing a sheriff would give the public an opportunity to see how he does.

“I think appointing a sheriff now, the public will be able to vet them even more fully. This will give them the opportunity to see if they really do have the ability and the skillset that we need to perform. And then the public can decide, do we want to keep this guy or do we want to choose someone else? And that’s why I think it’s important that we appoint. Right now, this county needs a strong law enforcement officer. We need a very strong hand at the helm, and I think it’s important that we appoint someone that’s willing to take that on. And it’s a short period of time before the next election.”

Shasta County Sheriff’s Department needs help

There’s no doubt that the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department is in big trouble.  Bosenko left his position early. Magrini left his position early. The negative situation with Walker and other deputies mentioned in Schwaller’s article suggests that these deputies may be the tip of the iceberg, the product of a deeply rooted cultural situation steeped in racism, bigotry, homophobia and toxic masculinity.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that I stopped expecting call-backs from the Sheriff’s Department early on in Magrini’s tenure. That comes with the job sometimes, but I confess to feeling more dismayed than I care to admit when I reached out to Tim Mapes, the department’s new public information officer, who ignored my multiple calls and emails that sought data about Shasta County CCWs. I get it. I’m a media person who’s written negative stories about Magrini, which no doubt irritated him enough to place my name and other A News Cafe reporters on the do-not-call list. But for me, the disconcerting part was I’ve known and respected Mapes as a media acquaintance for many years, and have been on friendly terms with him. I could only assume Mapes was following orders and had been instructed to not respond.  It’s a tricky business when the only media to receive return calls are those liked by law enforcement agencies, and who only write positive stories. Of course, this is a tiny thing in the scheme of things. My life will go on without return calls from law enforcement agencies.

However, of bigger concern is the fact that when the county’s largest law enforcement organization is falling apart, then it leaves the community physically vulnerable and unprotected, and emotionally unsure about whether the public can trust the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department to protect and serve us all. When a law enforcement agency keeps bad apples like Walker, then it rots the public trust.

By all outward appearances and judging by his staff’s endorsements, Johnson seems well-respected and well-liked by all supervisors, even Jones, who’d rather wait for the 2022 election. But what’s needed most in the sheriff’s office is someone tough enough to stand up to the Walkers of the world, and the militia; someone strong enough to cut bravely through the thick web of a Sheriff’s Department multi-generational good-ol’-boy network.

Michael Johnson’s Revolving Law Enforcement Career: Eureka, Ione,  Anderson, Almost Eureka, Anderson

At last Tuesday’s meeting, a vocal majority (excluding Supervisor Jones) of supervisors expressed the desire to appoint Johnson as sheriff as soon as possible. At the same meeting supervisors agreed to pay $205,000 annually for the Shasta County Sheriff position. All that’s left now is today’s Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting, when supervisors proceed with the final steps to appoint Johnson.

Baugh mentioned during the meeting that of course the supervisors had each read up about Johnson for background information, so they knew what an exceptional sheriff Johnson would be. If true, that the supervisors did their homework and vetted Johnson, then it means that whatever they did discover didn’t raise alarm bells. However, in the spirit of transparency, it’s important that the public knows about Johnson, baggage, background and all.

There’s so much unknown about Johnson. Will he be a Constitutionalist sheriff like Bosenko? Will he become an Oath Keeper member, either openly or in secret? Will he refuse to enforce state pandemic mandates, like Magrini? How would he deal with deputies like Walker? Would he become (or is he already) bosom buddies with militia leaders, as Baugh boasted with Clendenen the barber/Cottonwood Militia leader at the start of the pandemic when barbershops were supposed to be closed?

Should we read anything into the Anderson Police Department’s Facebook post when Johnson visited Dill’s Deli in Redding, notoriously one of the least-covid-compliant businesses in Shasta County? How would Johnson respond should Proud Boys, or any other hate group, arrive in Shasta County?

Anderson Police Chief Michael Johnson backs Dill’s Deli for backing the blue. Earlier today Chief Michael Johnson paid a visit to Dill’s Deli in Redding, after his son told him the business was clearly a “back the blue” supporting business. Chief Johnson entered the business to find a strong and proud display aimed at supporting local law enforcement. Before leaving he showered the business with praise, thanks, and some APD swag. Thank you Dill’s Deli and thank you to the Shasta County community for showing your support and pride! Source: Anderson Police Department Facebook page.

Finally, does it matter that District 1 Supervisor Chimenti’s son works for Johnson at the Anderson Police Department, where Chris Chimenti was promoted to sergeant in March?

Cake celebrates Anderson Police Department Sgt. Chimenti’s promotion

And should this fact have prompted Supervisor Chimenti to recuse himself from conversations about appointing Johnson, including champagning for a salary higher than what was recommended by staff, as well as any upcoming votes regarding Johnson’s nearly guaranteed appointment, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest?

 

From left, Anderson Police Sgt. Chris Chimenti and Chief Michael Johnson celebrate Chimenti’s promotion.

Some things we do know about Johnson, including some unfortunate incidents that will no doubt remain with Johnson for the rest of his life.

Johnson career timeline

1996 to 2001: Michael Johnson, originally from Humboldt County, served as a Eureka Police Department peace officer.

December 2001: Johnson was promoted as a sergeant at the Eureka Police Department.

April 2006: As reported in a North Coast Journal story by Hank Sims, Sgt. Johnson and fellow officer Rocky Harpham (now an Anderson Police Department lieutenant) were involved in a standoff in Eureka with Cheri Lyn Moore, a 48-year-old woman suffering from a mental health episode on the anniversary of her daughter’s suicide. Johnson, a member of the Eureka Police Department SWAT team, was among the officers who broke down the Moore’s apartment door. According to the Eureka Times-Standard, Moore died after Johnson and Harpham fired their weapons and hit Moore nine times, including one shot to the back of Moore’s head. The Eureka Times-Standard reported that a multi-agency investigation ruled the shooting as “legal and lawful”.

(Side note about Rocky Harpham. He’s the son of retired Eureka Police Chief Murl Harpham, and brother of Eureka Police Department Detective Ron Harpham.)

December, 2006: Eight months after the lethal shooting of Cheri Lyn Moore, then-Eureka Police Department Sgt. Johnson was again involved in second fatal shooting, this time culminating after a 32-hour standoff outside a Eureka motel waiting for Jonni Kiyoshi Honda, the alleged suspect thought to be a a child molester. Johnson was among the officers who fired nine shots at Honda after the suspect stepped from his motel room.

December 2007: Johnson accepts the position of the Ione, California, police chief. According to the Eureka Times-Standard, contrary to some speculation that Johnson left Eureka because of the Moore incident, did not seek the Ione Police Department position, but rather, Ione City Manager Kim Kerr — a former Humboldt County risk manager — had reached out to Johnson with the job offer. Shortly after accepting the Ione position, Johnson soon hired Harpham, his fellow Eureka Police Department friend and colleague, to join him at the Ione Police Department.

The Times-Standard reported that Moore’s fatal shooting was the first of four officer-involved shooting deaths to take place within one year.

2012: The Anderson City Council hired Johnson as the Anderson Police Chief. Meanwhile, in Ione, Harpham served as the interim police chief in Johnson’s absence.

May 2013: Johnson hired Harpham as a lieutenant for the Anderson Police Department.

July 4, 2013: Eureka Times-Standard reported that interim EPD Chief Murl Harpham (his contract officially expired in June) confirmed that a conditional employment offer had been extended to Johnson as EPD chief. The Times-Standared quoted an Anderson Valley Post story in which Jeff Kiser, then-Anderson City Manager, predicted that Harpham could end up as Johnson’s replacement.

”Rocky has made it very clear that he has no interest in ever going back to Eureka, and he shared with me the other day that he is making an offer on a house here in the area,” Kiser told the Anderson Valley Post.

July 2013: Johnson informed the Anderson City Council that he was pursuing a position as chief of the Eureka Police Department chief.

August 2013: Johnson withdraws his application for the Eureka Police chief job.

March 2014: Murl Harpham, father of Anderson Police Department Lt. Rocky Harpham, retires as Eureka Police Department chief.

November 2015: Story goes viral about Anderson Police Chief Johnson outfitting officers with nunchucks.

November 2018: Anderson Lieutenant Harpham receives the Shasta County Citizens Advocating Respect law enforcement award. (According to some sources, Harpham no longer works for the APD.)

Photo source: Supervisor Les Baugh’s Facebook page.

July 27, 2021: After already settling upon Johnson’s potential pay, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors appointed Johnson as Shasta County Sheriff in a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Jones delivering the lone vote against Johnson’s appointment.

A return to the original story

One of the most pressing questions relates to how Johnson, should he become sheriff, would respond to staff members like Walker, and as a leader, what kind of example would he provide to ensure that the public knows he and his deputies are trustworthy, that racism, sexism, violent rhetoric, white-supremacy and hate speech will not be tolerated.

If Johnson is appointed, we’ll have until June of 2022 to decipher those answers for ourselves. As Rickert pointed out, the public gets the ultimate chance to demonstrate how they feel about Johnson via an election.

Speaking of which, June 2022 will be an especially busy election year. In addition to the sheriff’s race, all other elected county department heads will be on the ballot, too: the Shasta County District Attorney, the Assessor, the County Clerk/Registrar of Voters, and the Treasure. Plus, Chimenti’s District 1 seat and Les Baugh’s District 5 seat.

Lots of changes. Lots of opportunities to use the power of a vote as a tangible thumbs up, or thumbs down.

Meanwhile, although Professor Schwaller is uncertain how the Sheriff’s Department will handle Walker, and deputies like him, Schwaller remains hopeful that at least one Shasta County entity will take his complaints seriously. He recently received word from the 2020-2021 Shasta County Grand Jury that said his complaints will be considered by the full grand jury.

We’ll keep you posted.

###

Note: Special thanks to Shawn Schwaller and several stellar researchers for their contributions to this story. 

 

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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