S. E. Williams

We can only restore faith in government if the state itself becomes an efficient, effective and transparent ally of the people. Bureaucratic inefficiencies, abuses of power and the misappropriation of public funds must end.

Victor Ponta

What a week it was for Riverside County’s criminal justice duo Sheriff Chad Bianco and District Attorney Mike Hestrin. Bianco is accused of misappropriating COVID-19 funding and Hestrin’s office is under fire for supposedly encouraging a former prosecutor to withhold evidence in a murder trial.

Understanding the self-serving political operatives that they are, I am almost certain both are taking some solace in the fact this is not an election year for either of them.

I am somewhat buoyed by the hope that no matter how full their political coffers become, or how much police unions and Republican party operatives rally to their cause, the people of Riverside County have long memories and to that end, when each, in his own season comes up for re-election, the people of this county will take full advantage of the ballot and rid themselves of these criminal justice imposters.

This week I want to comment briefly on the latest in the brash, wild west, ‘I’m in charge and I do what I want’ mentality of Chad Bianco and his self-righteous, though less than brilliant and far from astute  leadership of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.  

When news broke this week of the $6.5 million dollar lawsuit taxpayers must now unwillingly pay to defend against, among the plethora of media reports related to the alleged misuse of COVID-19 relief funds by Bianco and his band of sheriff marauders there was one thing missing—an apology to the citizens of this county for what clearly appears to be a misappropriation of funds. He has responded as if many of us are as uninformed and wallowing in the same pool of willful ignorance as many of those who support him. Let us assure you Mr. Bianco, we are not!

Certainly, for the moment at least, the rules of decorum  require us to acknowledge the claims presented in the lawsuit are allegations. But let’s get real—the county has already admitted the money was spent and further advised what the Sheriff’s Department spent it on—everything from flooring to furniture to bulletproof windows and cameras to…and I quote, “ensure appropriate physical distancing and safety, while reducing contact and decreasing the risk of transmission [of the coronavirus] within congregate inmate setting and among essential personnel.”

Bianco Refused to Enforce Mask Requirements and Downplayed COVID-19 

Really? I mean, really? This from the same sheriff who basked in the national spotlight last year and became a Fox News darling as he fought against every reasonable effort authorized by Governor Gavin Newsom to keep members of the community safe from the coronavirus; the same miscreant sheriff who required judicial intervention to explain steps he was [not] taking to keep county jail inmates safe as they continued falling ill and, in some instances, dying from COVID-19?  

Isn’t it ironic he now finds himself trapped in the public spotlight for alleged wrongdoing just as they were trapped, helpless in his COVID jails—also for alleged wrongdoings? The difference between them—a sheriff’s badge and a brown uniform backed with hundreds of thousands of dollars from police unions versus Black and Brown bodies in orange jumpsuits who cannot afford their bail.   

Further regarding COVID-19, this is also the same sheriff who publicly boasted on Twitter, “I make sure my immune system is firing on all cylinders. I will never take the vaccine and have zero worry of the virus.” He said this almost as if those who contracted the virus did so because of some weakness or  failure on their part.

In December 2020 even as COVID-19 patients in Riverside County hospitals reached a record high, ICU beds were at a premium and state and county health officials rang the alarm,  he was posting a YouTube video and though he passively advised residents to wear masks and social distance, he boldly and aggressively railed against any enforcement efforts proclaiming, “To do so would not only unnecessarily waste precious law enforcement resources, but it would also contribute to a breakdown of trust between law enforcement and the residents we serve.”  

However, his concerns over a breakdown of trust seemed to vanish away as he purportedly misspent relief dollars helter skelter. 

What a dystopian lack of value for human life. If he doesn’t value life, why should we be surprised when he values how he uses our tax dollars even less?

His December YouTube posturing video (done with the full support of his police union sponsors by the way), is seared in my memory because within two short weeks my beloved first-born niece became one among the many beloved lost to the unforgiving virus. In some distorted way when I reflect on the tragic day of her loss it is loosely commingled with the cockiness and laissez-faire attitude he exuded during his December YouTube video.

She laid there alone and afraid for three days in an over-crowded emergency room at a hospital facility in Riverside County struggling to breathe. Not only was the ICU full,  but there were also no beds available in the hospital at all and no available space in any nearby hospital facility. She was critical and needed ventilation and so she was finally intubated in the crowded emergency room.

Those of us who experienced the heart wrenching sadness of praying on the phone with someone you held as a baby, watched as they grew to adulthood, and then found yourself struggling for words to comfort them over the phone, encouraging them not to be afraid as they soon took their final breaths and slipped away, may now, like me,  be filled to overflowing with frustration in relation to the arrogance and hypocrisy of someone like Bianco.  

We must never forget how he strutted around the region drunk on power, impressed with himself, reveling in media attention as the pandemic raged around us and now, to learn he has purportedly misappropriated tax dollars paid by myself, members of my family and the families of all the others so tragically lost in this county to the pandemic and then to claim it was for COVID-19 safety is not only disturbing and unconscionable, it is extraordinarily unbelievable.

Just as Senator Joseph McCarthy was asked during another era in American history where disinformation and division was rampant, At long last, have you no sense of decency, Mr. Bianco? 

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real. 

Be sure to follow this column next week for Part 2 of Criminal Justice Leadership in Riverside County.

Stephanie E. Williams spent more than thirty years as a middle manager in the telecommunications industry before retiring to pursue her passion as a reporter and non-fiction writer. She is an award-winning investigative reporter, columnist, and editor who has contributed to several inland area publications. She is currently executive editor of Black Voice News and IE Voice.