Undersheriff Dicus’s Appointment To Replace McMahon As Sheriff “An Inevitability”

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is on an irretrievable trajectory to designate Undersheriff Shannon Dicus as the replacement for Sheriff John McMahon, multiple personages within the sheriff’s department and the senior level of the county’s governmental structure have told the Sentinel.
McMahon has served as sheriff since he was appointed to the post in 2012 following his predecessor Rod Hoops’ resignation. He proved victorious at the polls as the unelected incumbent in 2014 against two challengers and was then reelected unchallenged in the 2018 election. He abruptly announced his retirement on June 18, effective July 16.
Political considerations, the culture of the county’s intertwined governmental and law enforcement silos, departmental history and county tradition, compounded by Dicus’s stated determination to seek election in 2022 gives him a leg up on on the three applicants he is competing against. When the current board of supervisors’ interest in maintaining continuity in the department to preserve the status quo and the current dynamic of noninterference between the county’s ruling elite and its law enforcement arm is thrown into the mix, the board’s appointment of anyone other than Dicus to succeed McMahon is inconceivable.
Two of the three others besides Dicus seeking the sheriff’s post are essentially outsiders. One enjoys some political cachet but has now, after having risen to a mid-level management post with the department, fallen into what is predominantly outsider status within the sheriff’s office.
The board of supervisors is scheduled to interview the four candidates on Wednesday, July 7, and it is anticipated that a vote settling the succession question will be taken before that convocation concludes.
The sheriff’s position carries with it the adjunct titles of coroner and public administrator while providing an average yearly salary and other pay of $280,000 and benefits of $248,000 for a total annual compensation of $528,000.Competing with Dicus for the sheriff’s appointment are Phillip Dupper, Clifton Harris and William Loenhorst.
Phill Dupper can arguably make for himself, or others might make for him, a disputed claim to insider or establishment status, as he has acceded to the rank of lieutenant after 25 years with the sheriff’s department. Upon graduating from the academy in 1996, he was assigned to the county jails, thereafter working patrol out of the Fontana Station. He promoted to detective, whereupon he was sent to the Rancho Cucamonga Station, then subsequently worked in the narcotics division. Upon being promoted to sergeant, he returned to the department’s jails, was thereafter assigned to Morongo Valley and was brought back to Rancho Cucamonga. After his promotion to lieutenant, he worked out of the department’s headquarters on Third Street in San Bernardino, overseeing the department’s information technology, central communications and dispatch functions. He has since returned to the department’s corrections division, first at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga and currently at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in Devore.
Dupper is presently Loma Linda mayor, and has served on the Loma Linda City Council for 11 years. Previously, he was a board member and eventual vice president of the Safety Employees Benefit Association, the union representing San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies.
While he has demonstrated a degree of dedication and proficiency as well as the requisite patience and political finesse to advance to lieutenant’s rank, the 47-year old Dupper has not been entirely closed-mouthed with regard to his observations about what he sees as shortcomings in the department’s operations, and he has voiced his belief that the changing social and technological environment in the post modern world has created both subtle and substantial changes in the way a law enforcement agency should and needs to operate. Moreover, his experience as an elected official, particularly in a city where his department provides contract law enforcement service and serves as Loma Linda’s police department, has given him a perspective on the context in which law enforcement function is seen as an element of a community and its government rather than a self-centric function unto itself. The past command echelon that was in place when Dupper was hired which was a generation to a generation-and-a-half older than what he was and the current command echelon, which is a-half generation his senior, have not always been ready to accept his view of things or adapt to his more nuanced perception of the world. Functioning in the mostly black-and-white environment of traditional law enforcement, Dupper has become less of a whistleblower than whippersnapper who has been confined to the bush leagues by his elders, one who is unlikely to make the leap to the department’s command echelon. At this point, he is ten years or so shy of what would be typical retirement age for someone in the department. It was already touch and go as to whether he would have gained promotion to captain. Now, having marked himself as the one member of the department who challenged the collective will and consensus at the most senior levels of the department which hold that Dicus is the logical heir apparent to McMahon, Dupper almost assuredly has consigned himself to a position no higher than lieutenant for the remainder of his career with the department.
In his written application to the board of supervisors seeking consideration of his appointment to replace his current boss on July 15, Dupper referenced “a perceived lack of internal procedural justice by employees within the organization. Quite a few employees believe the department operates like a good ol’ boys club, where personal relationships matter more than qualifications or efficacy. Decisions, promotions and assignments are made based on who employees align themselves with politically or socially. Many employees believe the department to be a place where leadership models do as I say, but not as I do. For those who speak up or become whistleblowers, they are ostracized, and sometimes even punished for doing so. Many employees believe the disciplinary system is disparate, giving favor to people who are ‘connected.’ Many see a lack of diversity within upper ranks. Some employees perceive hypocrisy, nepotism and cronyism as being openly embraced. Some say their commanders model or even brag the best way to stay out of trouble or advance within the organization is to never make a decision or do anything.”
Insisting he loves the department, believes in its mission, is proud of the men and woman who man it and generally respects the department’s management and administration and that he considers both John McMahon and Shannon Dicus to be sincere and well-intentioned, he said there are elements of the way the department operates that are slipshod, and he sees room for improvement.
“Many things in law enforcement continue to happen with a wink, nod and story about how it was done in the old days,” Dupper wrote. “The reality is, in today’s world, we must set a high moral and ethical standard and make it very clear that standard is practiced by all of us together. I would mandate all upper management work either a patrol or jail shift quarterly to ensure they retain an understanding of the job they ask their employees to complete. Many managers have not been inside a patrol car or jail housing unit in years, yet they make critical decisions related to those operations.”
Dupper was particularly critical of a move the department made toward allowing information pertaining to the department’s operations to be eradicated, and the chronicling of the department’s action, in many respects, to be lost forever.
“Two years ago, the sheriff’s department changed its retention policy for records such as email, audio recordings and case files,” Dupper wrote. “All email communication older than two years is now automatically destroyed. I believe this to be inappropriate. Email and/or other government communication should be kept as a record of an agency’s activity and for scrutiny by the public. This helps ensure accountability and transparency. As sheriff, I would reverse certain retention polices to ensure nothing is destroyed except what is mandated by statute or legal requirement.”
Cliff Harris is a San Bernardino native, having graduated from San Bernardino High School before obtaining a degree in business from the University of La Verne. After serving in the U.S. Army, he held various jobs, including management training positions with J.C. Penney and the Ford Motor Company. After a two year stint as a reserve deputy with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s department, Harris was hired as a deputy. He remained with the department until 1991, having achieved the rank of detective. He subsequently hired on with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, remaining in that assignment until he retired in 1999. Harris twice ran for sheriff, in 1994 and again in 2014. Since 2010, he has been the owner of Time Wise Investigations. He has been for twenty years the publisher of the San Bernardino American, an adjudicated newspaper.
Harris, an African-American, was even more direct than Dupper about the cultural disconnect in the department and at its highest levels with respect to a major portion of the community it is called upon to police. Harris cited “accountability, police integrity, equal enforcement of the law, use of force, value of human life, respect for others, civil liabilities paid out in lawsuits and lack of training of deputies, supervisors, managers and executive staff [as] the most pressing issues facing the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.”
Harris wrote, “The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police represents a tipping point in American policing. We must not only come to terms with hard facts but must act on them. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which was founded in 1853, is one of California’s oldest sheriff’s departments. Throughout its history, the organizational culture has been slow to make substantive change. Accountability in a democratic society means that the police are accountable to the law and the community. Deputies must apply the same standards of justice to every member of the community. Sheriff’s deputies in a democracy must adhere to the limitations that are placed on their discretion and lawfully prescribed use of authority.”
Harris asserted that the department has been too heavy-handed in its use of force, in particular against minorities. “Recent incidents of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s use of force against blacks have led to deaths and serious injury to unarmed citizens,” he wrote. “The anti-black violence and injustice across the country underscore the corrosive effects of systemic racism in our society and the fear and lack of trust that many people feel daily toward law enforcement. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department under my leadership will show all communities that it is committed to serving all members of our community and treating everyone with respect and dignity. Officers who use excessive or unauthorized force will be subject to discipline, including possible criminal prosecution.”
In his written application to the board of supervisors, Loenhorst’s exposition of his philosophy and intended approach were he to be selected to succeed McMahon was far less involved and explicit than those of Dupper and Harris.
As to what he considered to be the most pressing issues facing the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and how he plans on addressing these issues, Loenhorst tersely wrote, “False and incomplete media patterns directly lead to department funding shortages. The plan will include use of force policy training and continuous improvements through approved media promotion channels to proactively demonstrate the quality of existing training and policy.”
Asked what the sheriff’s department could do to improve outreach to and relationships with people who live in communities with high crime rates, Loenhorst wrote, “Train community leaders and organizers in the FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] incident command system. When crime rates approach a defined ‘tipping point,’” he wrote, the sheriff/sheriff’s department should “put into practice incident command system protocols while including trained, authorized community leaders to be part of the ICS [incident command system] organized practice incident command protocols while including trained authorized community leaders to be a part of the ICS system. This allows better use of a proven system while raising community member moral[e].”
Though the law enforcement training and credentials of Dicus, Dupper and Harris are well established, those of Loenhorst are somewhat unclear. His application indicated that he had an advanced active or inactive certificate issued by the Commission on Police Officers Standards and Training, but this reference, in handwriting, was somewhat cryptic, stating “cert on file at VOLF – EMP # C6954.” Nowhere on the application was a definition of what the abbreviation or acronym VOLF stands for.
The Sentinel’s effort to ascertain what law enforcement agencies Loenhorst previously worked for was unsuccessful. William Loenhorst, Sr., who may have been Loenhorst’s father, was a deputy with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. William Loenhorst, Sr. died on July 23, 2009.
Clerk of the Board of Supervisors Lynna Monell posted to her office’s webpage on the county website the applications for the sheriff’s position filled out by Dicus, Dupper, Harris and Loenhorst. Monell blacked out the personal and contact information on those applications. While the Sentinel has contact information for Dicus, Dupper and Harris, it did not have and could not obtain contact information for Loenhorst. The Sentinel, aware that the clerk of the board’s office was not at liberty to provide it with Loenhorst’s contact information, asked that an employee there contact Loenhorst to ask him to contact the Sentinel.
“I don’t think we can be involved in that process,” Donna Young, Monell’s executive secretary said. She routed the Sentinel’s call to Felisa Cardona, the deputy public information officer with the county. Asked if she would contact Loenhorst to see if he was willing to discuss his application for sheriff with the Sentinel, Cardona said, “I don’t think I can do that.”
On July 7, nineteen days after McMahon sprung upon the public his decision to leave office, the board of supervisors is scheduled to convene a meeting at 1 p.m. at which it is to review the board-adopted appointment process for the office of sheriff/coroner/public administrator, and if necessary, approve changes to the process as needed; complete the board-adopted appointment process by disclosure of the names of each board member’s candidates recommended for interview, or in the alternative to complete the process as may be changed; conduct interviews of the candidates and deliberate in open session, at which time the board members are to consider appointing a replacement sheriff.
The announcement of next Wednesday’s meeting and its agenda was made public today. No realistic opportunity for widespread public exchanges with or interviews with Dicus, Dupper, Harris or Loenhorst will transpire before Wednesday’s meeting, as the Fourth of July weekend is intervening, leaving Tuesday as the lone workday before the meeting takes place. The county has not facilitated the provision of phone or email contact information with regard to any of the four candidates to the public. Moreover, Wednesday’s meeting is to take place in the Magda Lawson conference room on the county administration building’s fifth floor, rather than the far larger Robert Covington meeting chamber, where board of supervisors meetings are normally held and which features facilities that allow the public to participate and offer verbal input that is audible throughout the room through a microphone at the public speaker lectern, and which makes those comments audible on the video of the meeting.
While the meeting is to be livestreamed on the county’s website, members of the public will not be permitted to participate verbally in the meeting. Rather, if a member of the public submits a comment in writing to the clerk of the board by email prior to the meeting or by U.S. Post such that it arrives prior to the meeting, that comment will be forwarded to the board members for their private review. Any comments arriving during or after the meeting will not be provided to the board members until after the meeting.
The upshot is that the board of supervisors is being less than fully accommodating of those members of the public who may want to weigh in on the appointment before it is made.
According to virtually everyone within the informational loop in county government, the sheriff’s department or among the knowledgeable observers of the board of supervisors, any public input is and will be irrelevant to the board’s decision, which has already been made in favor of Dicus.
One of those, a now former member of the department who inhabited a position in the department’s command echelon for a decade, said that the meeting called for next Wednesday at which the applicants will be interviewed as well as statements made by members of the board of supervisors conveying that the board was carefully considering multiple individuals to fill the sheriff’s role were all “theater.”
“The dominoes were in place long before the sheriff announced he was retiring,” the nearly 40-year law enforcement professional said. “The next sheriff is going to be Shannon, who is very qualified for the position. He’s a good man, and he’s a good choice. You could see this coming. This is the third consecutive time the elected sheriff resigned right in the middle of his term, and handed the position over to someone who embodies everything about the department that the sheriff stands for. Shannon has been on the second floor [of the sheriff’s department headquarters located at 655 East Third Street in San Bernardino, from which the sheriff, undersheriff, the department’s two assistant sheriffs and four of the department’s seven deputy chiefs operate]. He has been a trusted and productive member of the executive staff for three or four years. I would say he fully emerged in the picture as one of the two or three likely candidates to take over after Assistant Sheriff Dave Williams retired in 2017.”
Dicus, he said, “has been groomed to be sheriff. He was serving in a liaison position with the board of supervisors, which was done so that they would feel comfortable appointing him. I will guarantee you, even though they will never admit it, the board of supervisors was in on the appointment before the sheriff’s resignation was announced.”
It will not be a cakewalk for Dicus once he is in office, the longtime lawman said, as policing is becoming a more and more challenging profession, with changing perceptions of the role of law enforcement and the values that society is straitjacketing the profession into accepting.
“I don’t envy him on the timing,” he said. “Things were changing when I got out of the game, and that was a while ago. Right now, the political climate is not all that great.”
Still, he said, “Shannon is up to it. His whole career has taken him to where he is.”
The degree to which political considerations have horned in on and even taken precedence over the professionalism in the county’s largest law enforcement agency is shown by the sharply different take members of the board of supervisors have on the sheriff applicants’ willingness to run for election and those of a wide cross section of the community activists. Many of those outside of the county’s political elite, per se, are skeptical of the way the sheriff’s department has been headed by members of the Frank Bland political machine for two-thirds of a century. Frank Bland, a one-time railroad company policeman, FBI agent and Needles police chief, in 1954 defeated the one-term incumbent sheriff of that day, Eugene Mueller, who had been the Upland police chief when he was elected in 1950. Bland was reelected in 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1974 and 1978, growing stronger and stronger politically every four years, as his no-nonsense philosophy of being tough on criminals drew to him a stridently pro-law enforcement support network, including hundreds of donors to his electioneering fund. That politicking bankroll that Bland and his close associates controlled gave him enough money to buy newspaper and radio advertisements, handbills, mailers and billboards during election season, which allowed him to steamroll over anyone who attempted to challenge him for election. That campaign war chest was large enough that Bland had sufficient money to assist others who had to get the blessing of the voters to remain in office. Bland used that money to keep tough-on-crime judges, whom he considered allies and who had to stand for reelection every six years, in office. And when he spotted a judge he believed was soft on crime or who wanted, in his view, to mollycoddle criminals, Bland would find a hard-charging member of the district attorney’s office to run against him, and backed him with money from his political fund. Neither was Bland shy about supporting other local candidates, in particular members of the board of supervisors who stood ready to provide his department with the taxpayer funding it needed to keep criminals behind bars.
When Bland, at the age of 69, retired in 1982, he endorsed Floyd Tidwell, who won that race. Bland gave Tidwell the keys to his political machine and Tidwell ran successfully for reelection in 1986 and then endorsed his undersheriff, Dick Williams, in 1990, and used the Bland political machine to elect Williams sheriff. Williams retired in 1994, at which point the political machine got behind Gary Penrod, one of Tidwell’s close friends and rodeo team partner. Following his 1994 election, Penrod was reelected without challenge in 1998, 2002 and 2006 without any opposition, so overwhelmingly powerful and intimidating was the sheriff’s electioneering machine. Penrod resigned in 2009, recommending that the board of supervisors appoint Assistant Sheriff Rod Hoops. The board of supervisors complied with Penrod’s wish. Hoops then used the political machine that had originated with Bland and was yet in existence in 2010 to get himself elected that year. In 2012, Hoops elected to retire, recommending that the board of supervisors appoint McMahon, who was then assistant sheriff. The board complied and the Bland machine sustained McMahon in the 2014 race, when he faced two challengers and left him in such a powerful position in 2018 that no one ran against him.
McMahon has not publicly endorsed Dicus, but it is strikingly evident that he stands behind his undersheriff. One of the questions that the members of the board of supervisors insisted upon including in the application to replace McMahon was “Do you plan to run for sheriff in June 2022?”
Loenhorst responded in the negative. “No,” he wrote. “This would be a temporary assignment until a qualified candidate is elected and is available for service in 2022.”
Harris was a bit more equivocal.
“I plan to wait and see what the political landscape looks like in 2022,” Harris said.
So, too, was Dupper noncommittal.
“At this point, I have not fully decided,” Dupper wrote. “I definitely want to be part of improving not only the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, but also law enforcement as a profession. I look forward to participating in this process and seating the best person for the office.”
Dicus made no bones about it. He is looking toward perpetuating the Bland political machine.
“Yes,” wrote Dicus. “I have assembled most of my campaign team, established the domain name, am in the process of developing my website, working on obtaining my Fair Political Practices Commission number, and [will] begin fundraising shortly.”
The members of the board of supervisors, who are all hardcore political animals themselves, are not about to get in the way of someone who has control over the Bland political machine, the most powerful electioneering tool in San Bernardino County.
With the selection of Dicus as sheriff already determined, the only question pertaining to next Wednesday is how indulgent the board will be in allowing Dupper and Harris, both of whom have differing perspectives and priorities with regard to the brand of policing and law enforcement goals and values than those of the current sheriff’s department establishment, range over those topics when they are interviewed and allow them to get on the record and propound concepts and approaches that herald a new age in upholding the law, even in the Wild West of San Bernardino County, where traditions from the 19th Century yet live on in the 21st Century.

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