Hoops Departing As Sheriff; Nominates McMahon To Succeed Him

(November 9)  For the second time in less than four years, San Bernardino County’s incumbent sheriff will make a sudden departure from his post in the midst of his elected term.
Rod Hoops, who was nominated by his predecessor as his successor and then appointed sheriff on the strength of that recommendation when Gary Penrod abruptly resigned as sheriff in January 2009, announced he would abdicate as sheriff on November 7.  He asked that the county board of supervisors select assistant sheriff John McMahon to succeed him.
Hoops said he was induced to leave by the offering of a fellowship with the National Police Foundation in the nation’s capital. His departure came one day after the November election in which one of the candidates for county supervisor, James Ramos, won and another candidate for supervisor he endorsed, sheriff’s captain Rick Roelle, lost.
After his appointment in 2009, Hoops was elected sheriff in the 2010 election in his own right, albeit with the advantage of incumbency. Shortly thereafter the department was hit with a string of scandals that brought the agency and Hoops’ leadership of it into question.
Circulating even during Hoops’ campaign for election were reports that a number of his deputies and higher ranking officers had fraudulently claimed to have completed in-service classes and seminars in conjunction with the state of California’s Police Officers Standards and Training protocols that are required for police officers to maintain their certification and allow them to qualify for higher rates of grade and pay. After months of swirling rumors, in March 2011, seven officers and department employees, including a former assistant sheriff, a captain and two lieutenants, were indicted for having falsely claimed to have completed Police Officers Standards and Training coursework or aiding and abetting others in the falsifications.
The following month, a deputy, Nathan Gastineau, was arrested and charged with having sex with a 16-year-old police explorer scout he was mentoring. And a month later, a second deputy, Anthony Benjamin, was arrested and charged with having sex with another explorer scout he was mentoring.
This year, two other deputies were charged with beating a suspect and then falsifying their identities by identifying themselves to the beaten suspect as two other deputies.
In announcing his retirement, Hoops made no mention of those difficulties, instead insisting “I have witnessed the department grow into one of the finest and most respected law enforcement agencies in the country.”
In his announcement, Hoops said, “I have dedicated the last 34 years of my professional life to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. When I began my career as a 21-year old deputy sheriff in 1978, I had no idea as to what kind of adventure I was in for. I have lived my dream and have made many friends along the way. As your sheriff, I have never allowed myself to become more important than the office into which I was sworn to uphold.”
Hoops spelled out accomplishments he felt he has achieved in the last three-plus years.
“I am very proud of the changes made to the department during my four years as sheriff,” he said. “An emphasis has been placed on a better educated and more diverse workforce. A workforce that will serve our constituents well for many years to come. We are an organization that is made up of exceptionally talented and dedicated individuals that are prepared and ready to lead the department into the future.
“This has not been an easy decision for me, but the time is right for me to begin the next chapter of my life,” Hoops continued. “I have accepted a position as an executive fellow with the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C., the country’s oldest non-partisan policing research organization. It is an exciting opportunity that will allow me to remain involved with the law enforcement profession on a national and international level.
“December 2012 will be my last month of service as sheriff-coroner-public administrator of San Bernardino County,” he said. “I am leaving on my own terms, with peace of mind, in good health and with no regrets. My remaining time in office will be dedicated to insuring (sic) a smooth transition for the next sheriff. I look forward to working with our board of supervisors and our CEO to assist with the selection process.”
The abruptness of Hoops’ departure summoned recollections of Penrod’s sudden exodus. Penrod tendered his resignation in January 2009, less than a month after he was called as a witness to testify in the criminal trial of former Orange County sheriff Mike Carona, who had been charged by federal prosecutors with  accepting illegal campaign contributions, as well as bribes, in exchange for public and private favors. Carona would eventually be acquitted of those charges but was convicted of witness tampering. A nexus was drawn between Penrod and Carona because both had utilized Donald Haidl, a major campaign donor to both, to head their respective reserve deputy divisions. Haidl had profited financially from his relationship to  law enforcement agencies in that he owned a vehicle auctioning business that sold cars recovered or confiscated by those agencies.
When Penrod was called as a defense witness in the Carona trial, he testified he was never overly concerned with fund raising but acknowledged that in San Bernardino County those given honorary deputy or reserve deputy sheriff status were oftentimes his campaign contributors. Penrod said he perceived no problems in such arrangements.
Penrod’s testimony on behalf of Carona in which he maintained that providing special deputy status to those willing to bankroll his political campaigns was an acceptable way of running a law enforcement agency antagonized federal prosecutors. It was widely perceived that the U.S. Attorney’s antipathy toward him led to Penrod’s resignation as sheriff the following month.
Despite the consideration that he had acceded to the position of sheriff primarily because of Penrod’s recommendation of him to the board of supervisors, Hoops nine months later took action to curtail the quid pro quo arrangements between campaign donors and the department.
In October 2009, Hoops without fanfare withdrew from circulation the hundreds of honorary sheriff’s badges Penrod issued to his friends, associates and campaign supporters.  Hoops issued a directive to his deputies instructing them that if during routine operations such as incident investigations or traffic stops they encountered anyone brandishing a special deputy or posse badge issued by Penrod, those badges were to be immediately confiscated.
With that directive, Hoops effectively diffused charges by any would-be electoral opponent or the U.S. Attorney’s office that he was condoning Penrod’s practice of conferring special or honorary deputy status on the politically well connected.
Other than the adverse publicity the department had suffered as a consequence of the criminal cases filed against 11 of its employees over the last 20 months, there was no indication that problems similar to the one dogging Penrod was bedeviling Hoops and had prompted his resignation.
Nevertheless, like Penrod before him, Hoops seemed intent on handpicking his replacement with a department loyalist.
McMahon, 48, grew up in the High Desert and graduated from Apple Valley High School in 1982. He began his law enforcement career with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in 1985, working patrol out of the Needles station.
McMahon obtained an associate’s degree in police science from Victor Valley College and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice management from Union University. He eventually returned to his hometown after he attained the rank of captain, serving as the station commander of the sheriff’s operation in Apple Valley from 2003 to 2007. He subsequently was a deputy chief with the department, overseeing desert patrol and the detentions and corrections bureau. He promoted to assistant sheriff two years ago.
With the choice of  McMahon, to oversee the department’s 3,700 personnel and $440 million budget, it appears that undersheriff Robert Fonzi may have been stepped over.
Paul Schrader, who ran against Hoops in 2010 and has announced he will again run for sheriff in 2014, said he hopes Hoops will rethink the wisdom of appointing a replacement from within the department and that the board of supervisors this time will not blindly comply with the departing sheriff’s wishes.
“I hope that he will abandon his request to appoint an incumbent to his office, which has been a very bad past practice,” Schrader said.

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