Dorsey Became Undersheriff Despite His Dissent Over Intelligence Function Abuse

Raymond Dorsey, who initiated his law enforcement career with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department at the relatively advanced age of 26, ultimately rising to the department’s highest ranking non-elected position, has died, 27 years after his retirement.
The son of Lester Dorsey and Mary Colette Dorsey nee Maloney, born in Los Angeles on January 19, 1941, Raymond Francis Dorsey came to Redlands with his family when he was three years old, remaining a resident there for the remainder of his life.
In growing up, led by his oldest brother Richard, who was 11 years his senior, Ray and his brothers Ron and Tom took advantage of the rustic and agricultural character of the Redlands community and its proximity to the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Gorgonio Wilderness, by hiking, camping, fishing and hunting incessantly.
He attended and graduated from Redlands High School, San Bernardino Valley College and Redlands University, where he lettered in Football at all three. In High School and while he was attending Valley College, he worked at Gene Hinkle’s Union 76 gas station in downtown Redlands. With his brothers, he went to work for the tile business owned by their father.
In 1965, he married Thea.
In 1967, he joined the sheriff’s department as a deputy. He was well thought of by then-Sheriff Frank Bland, who had a second home in Redlands and was on familiar terms with Dorsey’s father. Dorsey promoted rapidly in the department. It is believed he was the last member of the department to serve in the capacity of inspector, a rank which was subsequently done away with.
By 1980, Dorsey was ensconced
within the department’s command echelon and was briefly considered to be a candidate to succeed Bland as sheriff, but was deemed, at that time, to be too young and not experienced enough. Rather, it was intended that he would be groomed to become sheriff by remaining as a deputy chief and eventually acceding to assistant sheriff and then undersheriff rank under Floyd Jones, a one-time California Highway Patrol captain who left that agency to go to work in the sheriff’s department. Dorsey was on track to take on a senior assignment under Jones when he became sheriff, as Jones was Bland’s penultimate choice to succeed him. When Jones suffered health issues, a heart condition specifically, he opted out of running for sheriff. Instead, Floyd Tidwell was designated as Bland’s handpicked successor.
In the 1982 election for sheriff, Dorsey, rather quietly, supported Charles “Chuck” Callahan, another sheriff’s captain who had the temerity to run against Tidwell. Tidwell, who had Bland’s endorsement and the support of the political machine which had grown up around Bland since his maiden 1954 victory in the sheriff’s race followed by his string of reelections in 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1974 and 1978, won that race handily.
Despite Dorsey having backed the wrong political horse in the 1982 race for sheriff, he remained on decent terms with Tidwell, who valued his intelligence and depth of experience in multiple roles within the department.
Under Bland, the sheriff’s department had developed a rather formidable intelligence gathering network within the department. Bland, a railroad police officer from Needles who hired on with the Needles Police Department and eventually rose to become Needles police chief, attended at one point the FBI Academy, attending lectures given by J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover had trained his acolytes, Bland would later say, that police agencies should maintain a dossier on all prominent members of the community in which they were chartered. In San Bernardino County, this manifested in the so-called “red card file,” which was distinguished from the card file kept on citizens within the county with whom the sheriff’s department had contact. Information about elected officials, government officials, business owners, ministers and the community’s movers and shakers was recorded on red file cards within the department’s alphabetized file indexes. Department personnel – from deputies making field reports of everyday contact with victims, witnesses, arrestees, suspects and bystanders to detectives as well as sergeants, lieutenants, inspectors and captains working cases – were instructed to make note of any details that might prove to be of some use to the department either with regard to ongoing or future investigations or in providing the sheriff and his department leverage in dealing with politicians, officials, decision-makers, prosecutors, lawyers, judges or the like.
While initially, the red cards were intermixed with the cards kept in the card catalog file drawers kept by the department which were accessible by all of the department’s clerical staff, eventually the red cards were removed from the general file and placed into a separate one accessible only to certain designated members of the department.
The main arm of the department’s intelligence gathering function had been the department’s intelligence unit, which worked in tandem with the crew of investigators attached to the department’s command echelon, i.e., the undersheriff, the assistant sheriffs and the department’s deputy chiefs.
At one point in his career, Dorsey had advanced by making himself an indispensable element of the investigative unit attached to the command echelon. Later, when he moved into a position within the command echelon himself, he possessed an institutional memory of the operations its investigators and the parallel intelligence unit had undertaken going back years.
The department, in its internal parlance, was divided into Germans and Irishmen. Germans followed orders handed down from the rank above them, goosestepping without question. Irishmen, again in the department’s internal parlance, complied with orders in their own fashion, dancing a jig around them. Dorsey was an Irishmen rather than a German. While throughout the first half of his career, Dorsey had done all that Bland had asked of him, from his personal point of view, he felt the accumulation of highly personal data about the communities prominent citizens was not a justifiable law enforcement function. Under Tidwell, the intelligence unit was gathering information department higher-ups thought might demonstrate that then-Supervisor Larry Walker was a homosexual; cataloging then-Supervisor/later State Senator Ruben Ayala being escorted by the department’s helicopter to cathouses in San Diego; documenting then-Supervisor Robert Hammock’s extramarital affairs; photographing judges Joseph Johnson, John Wade and Joseph Katz in what were or might be construed to be compromising situations, accumulating evidence of marijuana use by supervisors Jerry Eaves and Jon Mikels, monitoring the gambling activity by Supervisor/Public Defender David McKenna, tracking the business dealings of Supervisor Robert Townsend and obtaining information, documentation or evidence about other potentially illegal or embarrassing activity by other public figures.
While Dorsey made his views known, he did not actively defy any specific orders from above and he did not seek to block the continuing use of the department’s intelligence unit or the investigators attached to the command echelon to engage in activities he himself did not deem to be a legitimate use of law enforcement resources. Neither Tidwell, nor Tidwell’s successor, Dick Williams, nor Williams’ successor, Gary Penrod was willing to remove Dorsey from his posts of authority within the department, partially out of concern that if that were to be done, he would unload everything he knew about the department’s questionable operations to sympathetic outlets in the press.
To the extent that the outside world knows about the intelligence gathering efforts by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Dorsey can be given at least partial credit.
In 1990, when Tidwell decided not to seek reelection, Dorsey again quietly supported Callahan in what would be his second unsuccessful run for sheriff.
Williams remained in office only a single term. In 1994, Penrod, who had been a Tidwell protégé, inherited the Bland political machine and ran successfully for sheriff. Under Penrod, Dorsey served as undersheriff. In 1997, having served with the sheriff’s department for 28 years and 8 months, Dorsey retired.
His son with Thea, Stephen Dorsey, served with the sheriff’s department, rising to the rank of deputy chief.
He died on May 28, 2024 at Redlands Community Hospital and is survived by his wife Thea, son Steve, daughter-in-law Tracy, sister Shirley Carper, and brothers Ron and Tom.
-Mark Gutglueck

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