Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood has been in office for 12 years.

His challenger in this June’s primary election, Chief Deputy Justin Fleeman, has made use of every minute of that tenure to fuel an all-out frontal assault on Youngblood.

He has leveled accusations that Youngblood has protected his friends from firing for ethical violations, misallocated department money to buy a helicopter and overseen a dramatic reduction in street deputies that has put county citizens at risk.

Fleeman’s supporters in the Kern County Detention Officers Association union have released a 12-year-old video that shows Youngblood talking about how it is better, financially, for an officer to kill a suspect rather than injure them.

But Youngblood has brushed aside the hits and painted Fleeman as a disloyal sheriff’s manager who is willing to burn down the department in order to beat him.

The pair have just under a month to close the deal with voters. Their head-to-head contest will conclude on June 5 with a single winner.

Cal State Bakersfield political science professor Mark Martinez said Youngblood’s characteristic bluntness and consistent cowboy character appeals to the citizens of Kern County.

“None of the bombs (Fleeman’s) throwing are secrets. Donny’s used to dealing with that stuff. He’s open about it. He wears his heart on his sleeve,” Martinez said. “He’s Yosemite Sam and nobody cares about it.”

And that is why Fleeman will have a hard time defeating the three-term incumbent sheriff, Martinez said.

But Fleeman hasn’t shied away from the fight, launching his campaign in early March. He came out swinging — challenging the integrity of Youngblood’s leadership and handling of the county’s finances.

HIGH INFIDELITY

Fleeman said the sheriff has declined to discipline deputies who slept with other deputy’s wives or fire deputies who dallied while on the clock — ethical violations that should cost them their jobs.

People’s personal lives off the job aren’t his business, Youngblood said.

“I don’t want to be the romance police for the sheriff’s department,” he said.

When deputies are engaging in extracurricular activities on the job, Youngblood said, they are put through a disciplinary process and his top staff bring him a recommendation.

He believes, he said, that people sometimes need a second chance.

“We hire from the human race,” Youngblood said.

And, striking back, he’s questioned Fleeman’s frequent discussions about details of the alleged dalliances.

The law protects public safety officers from having their personal information disclosed in public, Youngblood said. Airing their dirty laundry in a political campaign could expose Fleeman to misdemeanor criminal charges.

“I want people to know what’s going on inside the department. We’re not talking about people’s case in particular,” Fleeman responded. “I’m giving hypotheticals.”

HELICOPTER SPIN

Another line of criticism from Fleeman is that Youngblood prioritized payments for a Huey helicopter over keeping the Ridgecrest jail open and keeping deputies on the street.

The closure of the jail is forcing deputies to respond to Ridgecrest from the Kern River Valley, Fleeman said.

That has put more pressure on the Ridgecrest Police Department, which is now forced to drive arrestees to Mojave or Bakersfield to book them into jail, he said.

“I would have sold the helicopter,” Fleeman said.

Youngblood scoffs at the proposal.

The helicopter’s finance costs will be paid off this year, Youngblood said.

Selling it would have added a burst of one-time cash that would have done nothing to help the Sheriff’s Office with long-term ongoing costs, he said.

“At the end of the day you don’t have the money, the aircraft or the deputies,” he said.

Youngblood didn’t like closing the Ridgecrest Jail, he said. He knew he’d take a political hit.

But, when his managers brought him the idea, he knew it was the right thing to do.

“I had two choices. I could lay off deputies or close the jail,” Youngblood said.

BUDGET BRAWL

In large part, the attacks against Youngblood, and Fleeman’s candidacy, can be tied to Kern County’s budget struggles. They have forced the Sheriff’s Office to accept flat or reduced budgets for nearly a decade.

Youngblood said his deputies haven’t seen a raise in nine years and are the lowest-paid deputies in the Central Valley.

They’re training here, he said, and then leaving for other jurisdictions like Fresno, where just agreeing to take a job as a deputy can earn them a $20,000 signing bonus.

Deputies are underpaid, spread thin and suffering from low morale, Fleeman said, and it's because Youngblood is an absentee sheriff who isn’t seen out in the various divisions of the Sheriff’s Office.

“Morale is very big,” Fleeman said. “You have to have good morale to keep the deputies we have. Money doesn’t buy morale.”

He acknowledges that the county has been in a financial crisis for most of the past decade and Youngblood doesn’t have control over the size of his budget.

VIOLENCE VIDEO

The sheriff’s race leapt onto the national spotlight last month with the Detention Officers Association released an edited video from 2006 showing Youngblood talking about how it’s cheaper for an officer to kill a person rather than cause them permanent injury.

The video drew coverage and shock from across the country.

Youngblood said it was taken out of context in an attempt to damage his candidacy.

“I was talking about the importance of being professional,” Youngblood said.

An unjustified assault or shooting by a deputy can cost the county millions and he was telling detention deputies why it was important for them to be well-trained.

Youngblood said he may have used the wrong words to make the point.

But the video put out by the detention deputies union was edited to make his statements more shocking.

Fleeman said the idea that Youngblood expressed — that the families of people killed by deputies could be bought off with a few million dollars — was disturbing.

“People aren’t garbage,” he said.

Still, he doesn’t think Youngblood was trying to say that.

“I don’t believe he is encouraging anyone to shoot somebody,” he said. “Maybe (it was) a poor choice of words.”

FINAL STRETCH

Fleeman said he is moving on from repeated attacks against Youngblood.

“You can’t just rip somebody and keep ripping,” he said.

His campaign from here on will focused on talking about how he plans to run the department better, he said.

“People need to see where the sheriff’s department has gone in the past 12 years. We’ve given him 12 years to keep his promises,” Fleeman said.

Youngblood said Fleeman’s aggressive approach so far has betrayed the trust he placed in him when he repeatedly promoted Fleeman. And that calls into question Fleeman’s fitness for leadership, the sheriff said.

“Can you go into a meeting and trust that what you said will stay there?” Youngblood said.

And the attacks sting.

“I’m getting painted as a bad person by one of my own. That’s painful,” he said. “He’s not just attacking me. He’s attacking the whole organization.”

Fleeman said his job isn’t to sit quietly while he believes things in the Sheriff’s Office need to change.

“I am loyal to the people of Kern County,” Fleeman said. “My faith is in God, not Donny Youngblood.”

(14) comments

Sickofit

Dearest Bodysnatcher..you’re a bigger idiot then concern citizen is. The BOS has always and always will be a hurdle in the KCSO’s budget. It’s politics. Based on you’re comment and saying Youngblood had to do what he had to do also means take several pay raises over the past several years (approximately 12%) while other employees such as I haven’t had a raise in over 10 years. SHERIFF SPARKS pinned my badge on me. In 1994, some lay offs happened and classifications were changed But, staff were not leaving like they are now. As you know, from your personal experience many administrators have left for better jobs elsewhere. Don’t you dare call me a liar. The same idiocy you rant about how good of a job Donny is doing is the same idiocy that got Winbish elected. Just by giving the traffic report didn’t make him qualified to be Sheriff but for some people here thought so.

Bodysnatcher

Grow up. I’ve been around long enough to know when the sheriff is a problem for the department or the BOS. Take your little soft heart off your sleeve and recognize the difference. The problem with the sheriffs department was created by the BOS. If Justin is voted into the office of Sheriff I will support him 100%, but Youngblood is not the source of the department’s problems. The BOS IS the problem. You’re probably friends with Justin Fleeman. I’m not. Nor am I friends with Youngblood. I just know a leader when I see one. Justin, as I said is not the leader the sheriff department needs. Youngblood is that leader. I’ve said numerous times and for years, the sheriff is not beholden to his deputies, but he is to the citizens. Youngblood is exactly what the county and department needs to see us through these tough financial times and these days the state of California is anti-law.

Concerncitizen

Well tonight your guy did not bother to show up at the candidates forum in Taft. Great crowd and Taft citizens took notice.

Bodysnatcher

Whoa!! I’m out of country at the moment. Which candidate didn’t show?

Bodysnatcher

I didn’t call you a liar sick one. It’s common sense, when youngsters see their pay become stagnant they start looking at other departments with better pay and benefits. I understand some employees have seen incidents of unfare punishments dealt out for petty reason and that, I agree is true. However, the low morale has more to do with the stagnant pay and almost draconian budget cuts than anything else. Another component of low morale is the promotion of people who have no business being in a supervisory position, but that’s happened since the Kern County Sheriff’s Department was formed. I understand your frustration or even your anger, but it’s misplaced and misguided. Probably the difference in you and I is I’ve had the opportunity to work at different assignments in the department. Being stuck working in a custodial environment probably sucks too.

Bodysnatcher

I have news for you idiots; concerned citizen is absolutely correct 100 freaking percent! Youngblood is the only choice. Yes, I haven’t agreed with everything he’s done, but Fleeman is not the answer. Your BOS is 99% percent of the county’s, including the sheriffs department’s, problems. The sheriffs department was fine until the county BOS declared a fiscal emergency. Youngblood had to do what he had to do. A vote for anyone else other than Youngblood is a wasted vote.

Sickofit

Like I said.... you’re out of touch. You really think the ASO and BOS care..They’re politicians. You’re whole comment is not realistic. There’s a reason why the Kern Law Enforcement, the Kern County Detention Officer Assoc, Kern County Probatiion, and Kern County Firefighter’ s Union support Fleeman and NOT Donny. You obviously are not a current or ex employee the KCSO are you. If you were, your tune would be different. Get out of your safe office and hit the streets and feel what’s its like.

Concerncitizen

Actually you are making assumptions here. I completely support our law enforcement 100% and if you paid attention I called out the BOS stating they need to increase funding for our law enforcement. You stated clearly they do not care. How do you think Fleeman is going to get them to care I ask? Again throwing dynamite is not the way to win a campaign. Soon enough we will know the outcome of this election and if it does not go in your favor I sincerely hope you can get together collectively as a Dept and ask the BOS to increase funding. Keep it classy is what most voters want to see in this election.

Bodysnatcher

The majority of the deputies backing Fleeman haven’t been a deputy long enough to experience several sheriffs during their time on the job. Also, they’ve never experienced a major budget problem the BOS creat d for this department and th county as a whole. Morale is definitely linked to the budget. Do the math. As far as the detention deputies backing Fleeman, that’s no surprise. The majority of detention deputies can’t find their own butts with both hands.

Sickofit

To Concerncitizen...you’re an idiot !!!! Many of you aren’t listening to the (behind the scenes) issues. We have lost many many deputies and detention officers for other departments or other better paying jobs. What you people aren’t getting is when you’re appreciated and times are tough, people stick around.When you’re treated and dumped on, like we are, you just leave. Donny sees employees like a number. HE DOESN’T CARE ABOUT OFFICERS!!!! Why doesn’t anybody just ask an officer. They will tell you the truth. The officers on the street and in the jails are the backbone of the department and deal with the worst the county has to offer. Yet, they get crapped on by Donny and the Undersheriff. Donyy, the KCSO administration, and many citizens are out of touch with reality of what is going on in the streets and in the jails. I don’t mean what you read on stupid Facebook and hear on television, I’m talking about the real stuff you do hear about. Staff does NOT have Donny’s support.

Concerncitizen

I am not an idiot, I understand the County budget process. The budget related to our law enforcement has been lagging for years. This is not NEW news sadly. There are many that have served over years of service with these same issues. This is a BOS issue that they need to recognize our law enforcement need better funding. You sound like you are disgruntled current or ex employee and if so maybe you should consider a new career because this is not going to change until the BOS and the ASO get together and recognize that the KCSO needs to be funded better. Many I know have served under same situations different leaders and they still plugged away and did their jobs proudly with no raises for years admirably. Fighting internally bringing up years old baggage and it current baggage which might be questionable legally that are private personnel matters is not going to create a better work environment. Getting together collectively and standing up to the BOS is a much better approach. Working with community partners is also a step in the right direction as well. Personally the biggest error that the BOS approved years ago was filling the jails with working Detention Officers and not enough Deputies that could come out and work the streets in the event of critical emergencies.

Bodysnatcher

You’re the person out of touch. If you don’t think morale or employees leaving for better pay isn’t linked to the budget problem, then. Your are most assuredly out of touch.

Concerncitizen

When oil drops to $30 a barrel from $100 unfortunately everything suffers. It is unfortunate and each department must cut back accordingly. It is unfortunate you are so disgruntled and frankly it is not healthy. This is not new NEWS for the KCSO regarding the budget. A highly revered County Department Head said to us one day "Being a civil servant is a thankless job, when you complete a successful day on the job pat yourself on the back of you choose, because in general the civilians are not". Again, I admire our law enforcement in our community but it is a thankless job. Frankly, it is a calling to be successful in this career. I do have a serious concern I did not bring up earlier but since you seem to want to attack me here goes. Fleeman it is reported can only work 4 hours a day due to a back injury. How is he going to be fit for duty to work long days, attend events, travel to mandatory association and training events? As a tax payer the candidate should also be physically able to handle this. Again, keep it classy and at the end of the day as a unit find ways to reach out to the BOS and find ways to collaborate ideas to increase much needed public safety dollars.

Concerncitizen

This race has been an ugly one and frankly it never needed to be. Fleeman in my opinion demonstrated demonstrated his true character and lack there of professionalism and Management experience. His win at all costs by blowing up the entire department was astonishing. Talk about the issues, management styles, ways to approach the BOS on how to get more money to their budget. And to the BOS you had better do better to take care of our law enforcement because our communities are crumbling and are not safe. They have got to find some solutions to give the Sheriff Department what is needed.

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