The board of supervisors voted unanimously on Wednesday July 7 to have Undersheriff Shannon Dicus succeed John McMahon to serve as San Bernardino County’s 36th sheriff.
Accordingly, on July 16, the day McMahon’s resignation becomes official, Dicus will be sworn in to succeed McMahon and the 34 men who previously held the position of sheriff since the founding of the county in 1853.
There was some controversy with regard to the circumstance of Dicus’s appointment.
He is about to become the third straight sheriff to be appointed to the position as a consequence of a calculated resignation of his predecessor, a practice which has consistently conferred upon those appointees a political advantage which each has absolutely exploited. McMahon was himself appointed to the post in 2012, which followed the resignation of his predecessor, Rod Hoops. Hoops was appointed sheriff in 2009 when his predecessor, Gary Penrod, resigned. Hoops, running as an unelected incumbent in 2010, and McMahon, running as an unelected incumbent in 2014 and again in 2018, were both elected in large measure on the strength of their incumbencies as well as their de facto inheritance of a political machine that has existed since 1954 when Frank Bland was elected sheriff. Bland served as sheriff for 28 years, having been reelected six times. In 1982 Bland endorsed Floyd Tidwell, handing off to him the political machinery he controlled. In 1980, Tidwell endorsed his undersheriff, Dick Williams, who used the Bland political machine to gain election. Williams four years later endorsed Penrod, who was victorious, again with the assistance of the political machine inherited from Bland through Tidwell and Williams. So intimidating was that political machine and Penrod’s possession of it that no one challenged him in 1998, 2002 and 2006.
The board of supervisors in 2009 complied with Penrod’s recommendation that Hoops replace him, and that gave Hoops the power of incumbency as well as the support of the Bland political machine, which put Hoops easily over the top in the 2010 election. When Hoops resigned more than two years after that election and handpicked McMahon as his successor, the board of supervisors once again went along with the retiree’s designation, and McMahon proved unbeatable in the 2014 election with the assistance of the Bland political machine, so much so that no one deigned to run against him in 2018.
An issue brought up this time around was that the board of supervisors was again conferring a political advantage on another direct descendant of the Bland Dynasty, and that they are letting machine politics control the county. An appeal was made to them that they appoint an individual who would commit to not seeking reelection in 2022, the year the sheriff’s race is next scheduled to be held. In this way, it was suggested, an election among non-incumbents might be held in 2022 that would be untainted by incumbency or connection to a 68-year-duration political machine.
Congressman Pete Aguilar (Democrat-Redlands) was among those who expressed concern that conferring the sheriff’s position on an individual who would run for sheriff in the next election would provide that person with an unfair electoral edge. He called upon the board to appoint a placeholder who would not seek election in 2022.
In a letter to the board of supervisors, Aguilar asserted that “By virtue of title and experience, the appointed sheriff will have a strong advantage over any other candidate in the 2022 election, no matter the qualifications.”
That had no impact on the supervisors, who are themselves politicians, four of whom are Republicans in contrast to the Democrat Aguilar. The board collectively was unwilling to advocate a position counter to that of the interests of the Bland political machine, which has in the past and could be in the future harnessed to support individuals seeking political office other than that of sheriff, such as county supervisor. Phill Dupper and Cliff Harris, two individuals who applied to succeed McMahon and whom the board of supervisors made a public display on Wednesday of considering for appointment to the sheriff’s position, gave indication they were undecided in whether they would seek election in 2022. The board of supervisors interpreted Dicus’s confident assurance that he would seek election next year and had already begun forming his reelection team in a positive light, taking that as an indication he would provide the department with continuity of leadership. That was used by the board members as a part of the justification for appointing Dicus.
Four individuals had applied to be considered for the appointment to sheriff – Dicus, Dupper, Harris and William Loenhorst. There are a relatively narrow set of requirements to qualify to serve as sheriff, those being that one has to be a county resident, a registered voter and a holder of professional certification as a law enforcement officer. There was no question that Dicus, Dupper and Harris met that criteria, as Dicus has been a member of the sheriff’s department for nearly 30 years, Dupper is a lieutenant with the department currently and has been with the department a quarter of a century, Harris was employed by the department as a detective from 1984 to 1991 and subsequently worked with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, and all had certification by the California Police Officers Standards and Training Commission. Loenhorst claimed such certification, but by the time of the board’s specially-called meeting on Wednesday July 7 to interview the candidates and determine whether they would make a selection, confirmation of Loenhorst’s certification had not been obtained. He therefore did not take part in the forum that was set up, which allowed Dicus, Dupper and Harris, in that order, to provide a three-minute general statement followed by a round of questions from the individual supervisors.
Dicus, like both Dupper, from Loma Linda, and Harris, from San Bernardino, is homegrown in San Bernardino County, having graduated from high school in Twentynine Palms. He served in the U.S. Army for three years as a military policemen in the 101st Airborne Division, in which capacity he was deployed to the Middle East and South America. After his discharge from the Army, Dicus returned to San Bernardino County where he worked for the Office of Veterans Affairs as a police officer at the Jerry L Pettis Veterans Hospital in Loma Linda. He has been with the sheriff’s department for just under three decades. His father worked for the department.
He received his bachelor’s degree from California State University San Bernardino in criminal justice studies. He has a master’s degree in communication from California Baptist University.
Though the county pulled from its website a document which purported to provide a full range of the assignments Dicus had while working with the sheriff’s department, the Sentinel was able to reproduce some of that information. He was assigned at one time or another to the department’s corrections division at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation and West Valley Detention centers. He worked patrol out of the Apple Valley, Victorville, Barstow and Victor Valley sheriff’s stations. He worked in the department’s specialized investigations unit as a narcotics detective. He was assigned to the special weapons and tactics team, known as SWAT. He for a time worked in the department’s intelligence division, which was attached to the department’s command echelon, a position from which he and that unit’s investigators gathered compromising information relating to the county’s politicians, elected officials and community leaders, in particular the council members in the cities and towns which contract with the sheriff’s department to provide law enforcement services. He also had a supervisory assignment in the department’s technical services, communications and records divisions, as well as its bureau of administration.
With the 2017 retirement of Assistant Sheriff David Williams, who previously appeared to be on a trajectory to succeed McMahon as sheriff, an effort to groom Dicus as the next sheriff began. In the undersheriff post, he has immediate authority over the internal affairs division which is referred to in San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department parlance as the professional standards division, its civil liabilities division which goes hand-in-hand with professional standards, and the bureau of administration. Increasingly over the last year-and-a-half, Dicus has been taking on more and more of the hands-on management of the department that McMahon had formerly exercised as sheriff, such that he oversees the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s department.
The 2021-22 county budget approved by the board of supervisors last month included $5.2 million to outfit the county’s sheriff’s deputies with body cameras.
Dicus told Supervisor Joe Baca, Jr., “I’m personally for body-worn cameras. We have to commit to the county process, which is a request-for-information and then a request-for-proposal. So, those timeframes are set forth based on the number of vendors that submit proposals to the county. In working with the [county] CEO on the current budget, we’ve allocated approximately $5 million to take on that effort. We’ve also done pilot programs as it relates to that. Body-worn cameras is a complicated process, not necessarily the body-worn cameras themselves, but the infrastructure which it takes to transfer that data across a county as large as San Bernardino. There are things in the ground that cause that information to be transferred at different speed rates in some places where we don’t have any infrastructure at all. In terms of the policies and procedures, it would require that all deputies use those. Our deputies are looking forward to using body-worn cameras. They do act professionally, and they do want body-worn cameras to provide that evidence when they are accused of doing things they may or may not have done. Retention polices are something we would certainly take a look at based on storage and whatever we’re able to afford as the county. I would certainly promote body-worn cameras for transparency to any of our community members and plan on sharing that information as these critical incidents occur.”
Alluding to changing societal perceptions in which larger segments of the society have come to hold law enforcement officers in low esteem, Supervisor Paul Cook asked Dicus, “How are you going to demonstrate your leadership so that they [the sheriff’s deputies working for him] have the confidence in you to do their job and to do it in accordance with the law and everything else, and quite frankly, put their lives on the line?”
Dicus responded, “I have gray hair for a reason. I have gray hair because I worry about the problems that they don’t need to worry about. I will back their play and make sure when they have to make those critical split-second decisions in these highly volatile times that they’re backed and taken care of to the best of my ability. Experience matters. Across this country you’re seeing a number of law enforcement executives leave law enforcement. They’re not leaving because they want to leave. They are leaving because of high-intensity politics. Red and blue matters more.”
Dicus, a Republican, as are a substantial majority of the department’s members, then said, “It’s not about red [Republicans] and blue [Democrats]. It’s about doing the right thing. Being the sheriff is about everyone else and not yourself. Those troops – we’re getting kids that are willing to do this job because they want to contribute to their communities, and it absolutely amazes me everyday based on what we are seeing in the news and all the negativity that’s out there – they come to and from everyday, and do the job. Number one, I plan to be highly accessible and make sure that they know that they’re appreciated.”
The board devoted roughly 29-and-one-half minutes to Dicus’s presentation and the questions he was asked; slightly more than 27 minutes to Dupper’s statement and the questions he fielded; and just about 28 minutes in hearing Harris’s presentation and hearing his answers to the supervisors’ questions.
Multiple individuals of influence weighed in on behalf of Dicus.
Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco recommended Dicus to the board. “I urge you to appoint Undersheriff Dicus to the office of sheriff by trusting the ability and integrity of Sheriff McMahon who has led his department in a positive direction and set the stage for continued success after his retirement,” Bianco said. “Undersheriff Dicus is a fair, honest, ethical proven law enforcement leader who has earned the respect and support of his department, San Bernardino County police chiefs and the Association of Riverside County Chiefs of Police and Sheriff.”
Grant Ward, the president of the Safety Employees Benefit Association, which represents San Bernardino County’s sheriff’s deputies, without making a direct recommendation indicated his union wanted a continuation of the department’s current administration and management, a tacit endorsement of Dicus.
San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson said, “I want to indicate that I support the appointment of Undersheriff Shannon Dicus. I’ve had the privilege and the pleasure of working the last two-and-a-half, almost three years with him. I’ve known him as a person. I certainly admire his resolve, his integrity and his ability to continue to lead the largest law enforcement agency in our county.”
Chris Catron, the president of the San Bernardino County Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association, said, “I am here to… emphatically support and express our unwavering support for Shannon Dicus for appointment to the position for sheriff. Shannon has demonstrated over the years the skill, leadership and, more importantly, the character for this appointment to sheriff.”
Former Undersheriff Richard Beemer said he supported Dicus.
Though Sheriff McMahon pointedly did not participate in Wednesday’s forum and he made no public endorsement of any of the applicants, his support of Dicus was evident by many measures. One of those is that last week, he elevated Shelley Krusbe, Dicus’s wife, who was formerly the captain heading the department’s specialized investigations division, to the department’s seventh deputy chief position.
In his remarks to the board, Dicus essentially claimed McMahon’s endorsement, saying “I’ve been extremely fortunate to be mentored by Sheriff John McMahon.”
Dicus also sought to and did score points with the board of supervisors by alluding to the county’s strategic development and management plan, which is labeled “County Vision.”
“The County Vision has been at the forefront and a guiding principle for county government,” Dicus said. “We act in a manner that local government supports all of our citizens from cradle to career. I’ve been actively involved in the public safety element group since the County Vision concept has been adopted.”
Unspoken during the hearing was the damning information the department’s intelligence unit attached to the sheriff’s command echelon has picked up within the last six weeks pertaining to bribe money that has been filtered to Board of Supervisors Chairman and Fourth County Supervisor Curt Hagman, Third County Supervisor Dawn Rowe and Fifth District County Supervisor Paul Cook by former Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus, who was convicted in 2012 of 14 political corruption charges, including conspiracy, bribery, soliciting a bribe, receiving a bribe, public office conflict of interest, misappropriation of public funds, fraud and perjury. Postmus’s conviction on the public office conflict of interest charge prohibits him from holding elected public office in California for life. Nevertheless, he has remained active politically through the formation of a company, Mountain States Consulting Group, LLC, which is based in Wyoming and which he uses as a vehicle for laundering political contributions, bribes and kickbacks to public officials.
McMahon’s discovery of the bribery involving members of the board of supervisors, which came about the first week of June after he assigned investigators with his department to look into reports to that effect, was a factor in convincing him that the time for his retirement as sheriff was upon him. The information implicating Hagman, Rowe and Cook in the graft being vectored to public officials by Postmus remains in the possession of the sheriff’s department, giving Dicus a substantial degree of leverage over a majority of the board of supervisors, which gave him a lock on the appointment as sheriff.
While the board members were polite, deferential and even complimentary toward Dupper and Harris while they were interviewing them, after the hearing with regard to the sheriff succession was concluded, the board members made no pretense of considering either Dupper or Harris, gravitating immediately toward heaping praise upon Dicus and his qualifications for the sheriff’s post.
In short order Dicus was nominated as the next sheriff after which his appointment was unanimously confirmed.
Dicus will now join Robert Clift, Joseph Bridger, Valentine J. Herring, Charles W. Piercy, William Tarleton, Anson Van Leuven, E.M. Smith, J.A. Moore, Henry Wilkes, Benjamin F. Matthews, G.F. Fulgham, Newton Noble, A.J. Curry, William Davies, John C. King, J.B. Burkhart, Nelson Green Gill, John Albert Cole, Edwin Chidsey Seymour, James P. Booth, Francis L. Holcomb, Charles A. Rouse, John C. Ralphs, J.L. McMinn, Walter A. Shay, Ernest T. Shay, Emmett L. Shay, James W. Stocker, Eugene W. Mueller, Frank Bland, Floyd Tidwell, Richard G. Williams, Gary Penrod, Rod Hoops and McMahon on the roster of sheriffs of San Bernardino County who have held that position since 1853.
The board of supervisors voted unanimously on Wednesday July 7 to have Undersheriff Shannon Dicus succeed John McMahon to serve as San Bernardino County’s 36th sheriff.