Is Sheriff Hedges missing in action?
January 26, 2010
By KAREN VELIE
Is San Luis Obispo County Sheriff-Coroner Pat Hedges actively running the sheriff’s department, or is he allowing a temporary employee to cover his repeated absences?
Following the retirement of Undersheriff Steve Bolts on Jan. 1, Hedges declined to hire a permanent replacement, instead creating a temporary undersheriff position and hiring Bolts back as an hourly employee. And even though Bolts says that Hedges continues to “be very much in charge of the department,” numerous inside sources allege that after Hedges announced he would not run for re-election, he has rarely been seen around the department.
“Hedges is gone most of the time and has Bolts do his work in his absence,” said one sheriff department employee who asked to remain anonymous. “If Hedges did away with Bolts, his salary could save two to three positions.”
In 2004, Hedges created the undersheriff position as part of a restructuring that retained the same number of executive administrators without an increase in cost by lowering one official’s salary and recognizing the retirement of another. In addition, the creation of the undersheriff position put a buffer between the sheriff and his staff.
“The position assures the sheriff has an assistant of the same mind,” Bolts said. “It is a more efficient way to run the department.
“The undersheriff goes away when the next administration is elected,” added Bolts, who announced he plans to step down from his current temporary position at the end of this year.
Hedges, who began working his way up in the sheriff’s department in the 1970s, left his lieutenant post after being elected sheriff in 1998. His administrative record is marred by lawsuits, allegations of lawlessness and accidental deaths.
In 2001, Gerald Bernales, 22, suffered serious brain damage while being tackled by a sheriff deputy during an attempt to flee. The county paid Bernales $2 million as a result of a law suit.
In 2004, Jordan Maithen died of suffocation while he was hog tied by sheriff deputies. The county paid $50,000 to settle the lawsuit.
In 2005, the county approved the payment of $650,000 to the children of Jay Vestal, 36, a man who died during an arrest attempt in 2003.
Also in 2005, 23-year-old Keith Yecny died while in custody at the county jail. Hedges said that excessive force did not play a role in the San Luis Obispo resident’s death. According to the coroner’s report, he died from lack of oxygen because of the toxic effects of methamphetamine.
In 2006, Hedges and Bolts secretly bugged Chief Deputy Gary Hoving’s office. Hoving filed a claim against the county and received an award of $660,000. A county investigation into the incident cost taxpayers $117,000.
In 2007, sheriff deputies arrested Charles Lynch for operating Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, a licensed medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay.
In 2008, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Martin Tangeman ordered Hedges to return medical marijuana to a San Luis Obispo resident with a medical marijuana recommendation.
In 2009, Hedges’ wife, Sandy Oneal-Hedges, called 911 to report her husband was verbally abusing her. Hedges’ deputies chose not to write an incident report.
In June, voters will elect a new sheriff-coroner. Current candidates include retired California Highway Patrol Sgt. Michael Teixeira, Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Adams, San Luis Obispo Captain and Public Information Officer Ian Parkinson, former Pismo Beach Police Chief Joe Cortez, businessman Kevin Faircourt, former county supervisor and San Luis Obispo Police Lt. Jerry Lenthall and Sheriff Commander Ben Hall. If none of the candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff election in November between the top two candidates.