San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore took on birthers, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the news media Friday as he met with the Coronado Roundtable for its regular current-events discussion.
But the conversation, at the Coronado Public Library, extended far beyond standard political talk as Gore offered an unusually frank discussion for a public official.
He called out Arpaio for the manner in which he houses inmates, flatly rejected one attendee’s contention that President Barack Obama’s birth certificate was fake and criticized a local television station for its coverage of the 2011 deaths at the Spreckels mansion.
Those who would like to see Arpaio’s style of jail management embraced by San Diego County will be disappointed. Arpaio, the sheriff in Arizona’s Maricopa County, is known for his get-tough approach with inmates, from housing them in tents in the desert, offering them green bologna sandwiches and assigning them pink underwear.
“I have a different philosophy, my predecessor had a different philosophy, all the professional people in corrections have a different philosophy,” Gore said. “The job, the punishment is removing them from society.”
He noted that part of his responsibility is to be mindful of recidivism rates and how proper treatment can play a role in keeping inmates from returning to jail after their releases.
“When somebody is doing something right, what’s the highest form of flattery? Impersonation or whatever. You don’t see what he’s doing being copied all over the United States,” Gore said.
The sheriff also took on Arpaio for his involvement in perpetuating the theory that Obama’s birth certificate is a fake, criticizing him for sending a posse of volunteer investigators to Hawaii, far outside his jurisdiction, to look into the matter.
He called the situation embarrassing and said of the birthers’ contention: “I ain't buying it.”
“I think it's a gigantic waste of energy,” he said, before noting, “and I’m a Republican.”
Under questioning after he concluded his engagement, Gore noted that well-heeled political backers of conservative causes, such as the Koch brothers, would have been far more likely to turn up evidence of a fraudulent birth certificate than volunteer detectives.
He also stood firmly by his department’s and the Coronado police’s conclusions that Rebecca Zahau committed suicide and Max Shacknai died in an accident in July 2011.
The physical evidence, he said, from toxicology to DNA to footprints, guided investigators.
“I was convinced beyond any kind of doubt that there was no way that could have been a murder,” he said of Zahau's death.
He is confounded by continued criticism of the departments’ findings in the cases, from both the Zahau family and the Shacknai boy’s mother.
“What is the motive for all of law enforcement to come together and conspire and lie about this case?” Gore asked. “We (are) all getting paid off by somebody? We let the facts and the evidence lead us to conclusions.”
He accused unscrupulous attorneys of manipulating grieving family members into pursuing questions about the cases and the media of drawing undue attention to the mansion deaths.
As an example, Gore cited, without naming the outlet, the television station that ran re-enactments of how Zahau might have bound and hung herself from a mansion balcony.
Gore said the station's news director, whom he did not name, told him that he believed Zahau killed herself, but only ran the re-enactments and other Spreckels stories because they drew strong ratings.
“They knew it was all BS, but the ratings went up every time,” he said. “It's a shame.”
The station that offered the re-enactments was KFMB. Dean Elwood, Channel 8's news director, denied Gore’s allegation.
“If he's implying that I said this, that’s not accurate,” Elwood said, adding that he stands by his station’s reporting.
The remainder of the wide-ranging discussion, nearly 90 minutes long, included Gore’s update on the conditions of a detective and deputy shot in Lakeside this week and a breakdown of the ramifications as county officials house more inmates because of state budget cuts.
He also noted that the county wants to greatly improve upon the state's high recidivism rates with prisoners.
To help achieve that goal officials are building a $30 million dormitory-style facility to offer inmates counseling and other services to prepare them in the months before their releases.