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Controversial former Sheriff Appointed onto Ethics Board

The San Diego Voice & Viewpoint, Oct. 11, 2023.

Retired Sheriff Bill Gore’s appointment to the San Diego ethics board triggers community backlash.

Following a recent appointment made by Mayor Todd Gloria, the San Diego Ethics Board may have a seat filled by a former sheriff with a reputation marred by controversy. 

The appointment would last four years and expire in June 2027. While the rest of the council needs to vote on the approval, his consideration by the mayor has left many San Diegans in shock, especially due to the nature of the commission to which he is being appointed.

During his twelve-year tenure as sheriff, Gore’s department came under significant scrutiny for racial profiling, deputy misconduct, and most notably, the highest number of jail deaths recorded throughout the state. From 2006 to 2020, 185 people died in the jail system run by Gore, according to a California State Auditor report. Gore ended up retiring in February of 2022—the same day that the audit report was released. 

“Is this a person who accepts responsibility and accountability in an ethical way? Absolutely not. I think this person ran away from accountability,” said Yusef Miller, with North County Equity and Justice Coalition. 

Furthermore, the report found that the high death rate and other incidentals under Gore’s management pointed to “underlying systemic issues with the sheriff’s department’s policies and practices.”

In response to the appointment, residents took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to air out a variety of criticisms of the mayor’s selection.

“Mayor Todd Gloria is so out of touch he nominated Bill Gore to represent the values of integrity for an appointment to the City Ethics Commission.” said Dave Myers, who spent 35 years in San Diego Law Enforcement. 

If voted in to serve on the ethics board, his job, along with the other commissioners, would be to investigate elected city officials, candidates for city office, certain city employees, consultants, members of city boards and commissions, lobbyists and more. 

“Ex-Sheriff Gore serving on the Ethics Board is like having a fox guarding the hen house,” said Doug Porter, in an online op-ed. 

Composed of seven commissioners, which “shall be of high moral character and integrity” their oversight includes three specific areas of laws intended to create transparency and reinforce trust between local government and citizens–specifically in regards to elections and campaign finances. 

However, transparency is what the parents of Elisa Serna, one of the inmates who died while in custody under Gores’ department, stood outside the Edward J. Schwartz United States Courthouse last Thursday is demanding.

Taken in for alleged petty theft and suspicion of drug charges in Nov. 2019, Serna, according to a US District Court Report, came into Las Colinas Detention Facility custody pregnant, suffering from acute pneumonia and exhibited symptoms of withdrawal and dehydration. The report discloses that a nurse and deputy on duty witnessed Serna suffer a seizure and hit her head against the wall of her cell. Instead of checking on her they instead, “closed the door without providing medical care.” One hour later Serna was found deceased in the same position. 

To this day the Serna family is still grappling with the county over transparency issues when it comes to the release of the critical incident reports of their daughter’s death. The family suspects the documents will reveal that the sheriff and county was negligent and overall responsible for the deaths of Serna and other inmates who died during Gores tenure.

“The blood is on Gore’s hands,” said Michael Serna, Elisas father, “how dare the mayor recommend him for this [position].” 

Unfortunately, Elisa Serna’s case is not an anomaly in San Diego; however it does spotlight ongoing issues identified in the state audit. Specifically relating to the department’s “inadequate medical and mental health care, as well as their insufficient visual checks for the well-being of detainees.” According to financial reports by Prison Legal News, the city has spent approximately $15 million over the last fifteen years on wrongful death lawsuits.

Meanwhile, the alarming statistics of San Diego in-custody death rates prompted a new bill to be put into motion by Gov. Newsom last Wednesday. Spearheaded by local San Diego law makers, Senate Bill 519 and Assembly Bill 268 will expand and strengthen county jail oversight in regards to inmate deaths and will add a mental-health and medical professional to the Board of State and Community Corrections. 

“They could not keep these people from dying in their jails. How could they even be considered to give counsel in any other job when they failed so miserably?” said Serna.

Yet, in Gloria’s appointment memo, the Mayor sourced Gore’s lengthy experience in law enforcement, totaling 51 years of service which included a run as Assistant Director of the FBI. 

In addition, Gloria writes, “A San Diego native, Mr. Gore holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of San Diego and a masters degree in Public Administration from Seattle University. He is being appointed to a four year term ending June 30, 2027.” 

“I thank him for his willingness to serve in this capacity,” the memo concluded.

Shortly before Gloria’s Oct. 5th appointment of Gore, City Attorney Mara Elliott had already proposed reformations to areas of San Diego’s government, including the ethics commission. In particular, Elliott raised concerns on the commission’s appointment process, labeling it as “problematic.”

“Those regulated by the Ethics Commission – the Mayor, Council, and City Attorney – should have no role in the selection and appointment process.” Eliott wrote in her Sept. 20 memo. 

Alternatively, she states that the charter “should be amended to delegate appointment authority to a body that is independent of the City, such as retired judges or other neutral decision makers.” 

“disappointed to see Mayor Todd Gloria make this nomination. And I hope City Council shows the courage it would (but shouldnt) take to reject this appointed,” said Dave Myers.

The city nor the Mayor has yet to comment on the appointment. In the meantime residents and advocates in the community will be on the lookout for the formal decision by council in the near future.