By the time Jason Daniels was criminally charged in 2014 with committing rape and sexual battery while on patrol as a Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office deputy, he’d already been “separated from his employment,” as the county put it.
And as the case wound its way through court, local headlines all had a familiar refrain: “Ex-sergeant’s Sexual Assault Case Gets February Prelim Date,” “Ex-deputy Gets Day in Court,” “Alleged Sexual Assault Victim Testifies Against Former HumCo Sheriff’s Sergeant Jason Daniels” and, finally, “Former HCSO Sgt. Jason Daniels Found Not Guilty.” But five years after the last of those headlines, Jason Daniels has his job back — technically anyway, though he is no longer working as a law enforcement officer — despite the county having spent more than $240,000 on outside attorneys in personnel actions involving the case. While Daniels is not currently working or receiving a regular paycheck, he holds one of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office’s 17 sergeant positions on paper, apparently after an independent arbitrator reversed the county’s decision to “separate” him from his employment.
Public sector personnel actions are largely kept strictly confidential, and even more so with police officers, who enjoy not only enhanced due process protections but also specific laws guarding their disciplinary proceedings — and outcomes — from public view. As such, the county is legally limited in what it can say about Daniels’ situation, and Daniels himself declined several attempts to be interviewed for this story, so exactly what happened remains murky.
But information gleaned through a series of California Public Records Act requests offers a basic outline and, amid an upwelling of demands for police officer accountability nationally in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and locally as the Eureka Police Department texting scandal unfolds in real time, Daniels’ case has reverberations in all directions. For those advocating for police reform, it’s a sobering reminder of the degree to which state laws are designed to protect officers and keep their alleged transgressions secret. For municipalities calculating the potential liabilities of personnel actions, it can be seen as a warning of just how wrong things can go. And for police chiefs and sheriffs clamoring for more authority to fire and discipline their officers, well, Jason Daniels might be seen as a prime example of how California law is overprotective of officers and their disciplinary records.
Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said he’s legally very limited in what he can say publicly about Daniels’ case, so said very little about it specifically. But speaking generally, he said California needs to shift toward a system that either gives agencies more leeway to fire problematic officers or creates a statewide system for decertifying bad actors.
“If we are to be able to police our own — which is what the public is begging for, what they want — we need the tools to do so,” he said. “If we identify a law enforcement officer who has moral issues, integrity issues or racist issues, a law enforcement executive should be able to fire those people so they don’t carry a badge and don’t carry this awesome power that’s afforded to peace officers.”
By all public accounts, Jason Scott Daniels’ career had been successful. A local product, he’d graduated from Eureka High School and the College of the Redwoods Police Academy before being hired on as a police officer, first in Trinidad then in Blue Lake. He was hired as a deputy sheriff in 2000 and promoted to sergeant in 2011, serving as a field training officer, a member of the county gang task force and crisis…
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