Lake County News Sues Sheriff for Retaliation After Printing "Unfavorable Articles"
Lake County Sheriff Francisco Rivero hosts an hourlong radio show called "Straight Talk with the Sheriff." An August Sac Bee profile described him as "brawny and mustachioed," "a maverick who walks tall and shoots from the lip," and a man who's "been called a thug, a liar, a bully, a cowboy and the Cuban John Wayne for his swaggering brand of justice."
Call him a bully or a cowboy, but enough people liked him to put him in office
Rivero, who began his career as an SFPD beat cop in Bayview-Hunter's Point, has apparently found a new target for his swaggering brand of justice: a small, 6-year-old, local online media outlet called Lake County News.
This week, the news site sued the sheriff for discrimination, claiming that he is shutting them out from public information because the outlet published "unfavorable" articles about him.
The series of articles, published in late summer 2012, reported on Rivero's involvement in a 2008 shooting. The outlet found that the county's District Attorney was investigating Rivero for possibly lying about what happened during the incident.
As the LCN reported:
District Attorney Don Anderson is considering whether or not to give Rivero a "Brady letter" in connection with a February 2008 shooting in which he shot at -- but did not hit -- a man holding pepper spray.
It's alleged that Rivero lied to investigators about the incident, which Anderson investigated after taking office last year.
That particular story, from Sept. 26, noted that the county's Board of Supervisors had approved "the contract with Jones & Mayer of Fullerton, with a cap of $6,500, for legal representation for Sheriff Frank Rivero." Board Chair Rob Brown quipped during that meeting, "We have a real problem here. We have a sheriff who spends more time in court than Lindsay Lohan."
About a month later, the news site's founders, Elizabeth Larson and John Jensen, received an e-mail from the Sheriff's Office.
As the Columbia Journalism Review explained:
On October 22, [Larson's attorney Paul Nicholas] Boylan said, Larson and Jensen received an email from Rivero advising them they had been scratched from the sheriff's media list and would not be receiving further press releases and statements. "After becoming aware that you have printed such a blatant lie... I am done with your National Enquirer-style reporting," Boylan said Rivero wrote. He accused the LCN of a "witch hunt" against him and advised them to file information requests if they needed "any information at all."
In December, Larson and Jensen made information requests for all the correspondence the sheriff's office had made with media outlets, to see if they were missing releases. Their request was denied on the grounds that it was vague or burdensome. The Lake County News lawsuit alleges that this denial fails to comply with the California Public Records Act, which allows journalists and citizens to request and receive public information.
"It is about freedom of the press and the right of people to free from government retaliation," Larson said in a statement. "It isn't right for government officials to punish media outlets and the people associated with those media outlets when they report on issues and publish statements that the officials don't like. There are rules to prevent that from happening."
Rivero, who was elected sheriff of the Northern California county in 2010, is no stranger to controversy. Just ask him.
"I am one controversial character; I speak my mind," he told the Bee. "I'm a rough character to deal with when you're screwing around. Aggressive law enforcement's taking place. We're going out, kicking down doors and taking people to jail in volume, which creates controversy."
The Bee reported that "since he took over in January 2011, the average daily jail population has risen from 215 to 301, according to Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation data."
Rivero noted: "If you find a more corrupt place in California I'll eat my hat."