Former sheriff candidate Justin Fleeman has filed a claim against the county, alleging multiple charges against the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, including defamation and invasion of privacy.
Fleeman, who currently holds the rank of chief deputy, ran for sheriff in 2018 against Donny Youngblood, losing by 37,510 votes to 73,605.
The campaign was noted for the accusations each candidate levied at the other, and now Fleeman is claiming Youngblood and certain high-ranking members of the Sheriff’s Office retaliated against him because of his decision to run for sheriff.
“Sheriff Youngblood repeatedly disclosed his retaliatory animus to the press,” a statement included with Fleeman’s claim filing read.
The statement went on to detail several incidents in which Fleeman alleges Youngblood defamed him.
In response to questions about the claim, Youngblood said the department did not comment on ongoing litigation.
Fleeman was placed on administrative leave Sept. 20, 2018 based on an unspecified allegation related to an internal affairs investigation, according to the claim.
He is still on leave as the investigation continues.
He had previously been notified of a pending internal affairs investigation relating to allegations he disclosed confidential personnel information during his campaign, the claim said.
Fleeman denied the allegations in his claim with the county.
"Chief Fleeman did speak during the campaign in general about poor management, favoritism, sexual misconduct, misuse of public funds, and use of excessive force at the Sheriff's Department under the management of Sheriff Youngblood," the claim said. "However, Chief Fleeman never disclosed any names of officers nor did he expose anything that was not true."
The claim also says that some of his colleagues in the Sheriff’s Office spread falsehoods about the investigation within the department and statements to the media made the investigation appear more severe than it was in reality.
In general, Fleeman cited more than 10 incidences in which the Sheriff’s Office either mishandled the investigation into his conduct or leaked damaging details about the case to the media.
The claim has been referred to the county’s legal counsel. The county has 45 days to respond to the claim, which was filed Feb. 28. If no agreement is met after 45 days, Fleeman could file a lawsuit against the county and the people named in the claim.