Justin Fleeman, a chief deputy with the Kern County Sheriff’s Department, formally announced his plan to run against his boss, Sheriff Donny Youngblood, in June’s primary election.
Fleeman was surrounded by a crowd of family, friends and supporters Wednesday morning as he made the announcement.
And he came out firing, claiming Youngblood has been bad for the Sheriff’s Department; that there are ethical and moral concerns at the top; that Youngblood doesn’t meet with his staff; and he has failed to keep substations staffed to the level they need to be.
“We do not have the same quality leadership as we once had,” Fleeman said. “Putting deputies on the streets is priority number one.”
He acknowledged that Kern County is in a long-term, serious fiscal downturn.
But Fleeman said Youngblood has prioritized helicopters, airplanes and pilots over street deputies and has closed the jail in Ridgecrest, creating staffing problems in eastern Kern County.
The number of patrol deputies on the streets is at all-time lows, Fleeman said.
And he said the moral and ethical leadership at the top of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department is lax.
Deputies who have had affairs with co-worker’s wives, Fleeman said, have been promoted, while other deputies have been passed over for promotion because Youngblood doesn’t like their fathers.
Deputies are being investigated for selling drugs, domestic abuse and for sexual misconduct, a pattern of problems that Fleeman lays at Youngblood’s feet.
“This is all a result of lax oversight,” Fleeman said.
More information about his specific claims will come out in the next few months, he said.
Fleeman acknowledged that some people might call his campaign approach aggressive.
“It’s not slinging mud if it’s true,” he said.
Youngblood said he hadn’t heard Fleeman’s critique of his leadership and he wants to look into the claims before he responds to them.
Until then, he said, he will withhold comment about Fleeman’s challenge.
Fleeman faces an uphill battle against a politically astute incumbent, with only three months to get his name before voters.
But Youngblood’s campaign account is far from flush. As of Dec. 31, he had only $20,000 on hand.
“I’m only $20,000 behind him,” Fleeman said.
Currently Fleeman is a chief over the investigations bureau in the Sheriff’s Department and is on light duty after having his back fused over the summer.
He expects to go back on full duty on March 23.
Fleeman said his candidacy has already triggered political squabbles inside the Sheriff’s department and a complaint has been filed against him.
He doesn’t know what the specific complaint is about but he believes an employee took issue with something he said at a union meeting about the moral problems inside the sheriff’s department and has leveled a hostile work environment charge against him.
Fleeman said he has been ordered to stay away from the employee.
When the compliant is delivered to him, he said, he will make it public and address the issue.