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Investigator: No discipline for County Super. Serna

An outside investigator has concluded in her investigative report reviewed by the Sacto Politico that no basis exists to discipline Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna for his Facebook rant in early January toward supporters of Donald Trump. In turn, Serna charged the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association with wasting thousands of dollars of taxpayer money.

The investigation and report came in response to one county-employed civil engineer and the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association submitting separate complaints following postings by Serna to his personal Facebook account in January. This included Serna stating, “If you are a supporter of Donald Trump, you’re dead to me. You don’t matter. You are irrelevant. You are a traitor.”

According to the investigative report, the county employee claimed this was a form of harassment against him for his political affiliation, and the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association claimed the rant and other postings served as discrimination and retaliation against their members.

In a statement to the Sacto Politico, Serna said, “It remains perplexing to me why the [Deputy Sheriffs’ Association] decided their time and energy – not to mention thousands of taxpayer dollars – was best spent on investigating the content of my personal social media postings. It really calls into further question the judgement of the Association’s leadership, as well as the organization’s priorities.”

The county employee and the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association said political affiliation is a protected work category and that Serna’s Facebook comments violated those protections. The identity of the county employee was redacted in the released report, and the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association did not responded to requests for comment.

Sacramento County’s Public Information Director Kimberly Nava said, “The investigation is complete, and the investigator found that the allegations were not sustained. There are no further steps in the process. There are no agenda items for the upcoming meeting that address censure of a Board member, which is unsurprising given that the allegations were not sustained.”

The investigatory report was submitted April 21 and conducted by the Sacramento-based investigations law firm Van Dermyden Maddux.

In the report, the investigator noted “this was admittedly difficult analysis.” She said Serna “used rhetoric that is reasonably considered inflammatory” and that it “was understandably upsetting to those such as” the civil engineer and some members of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association.

However, since Serna used his personal Facebook account to post comments – and not his official Supervisor Facebook account – and since the comments weren’t directed at any specific county personnel, she found no basis that the complainants suffered any direct harassment, discrimination or retaliation. She also noted that the county does not have a separate social media or code of conduct policies that could apply to this case.

According to the report, Serna said he posted his original comments about Trump supporters on Jan. 3 in response to personal frustration over Trump and his supporters for perpetuating that Trump did not lose the 2020 election “fair and square.” Serna also claimed his posts were “cathartic” and reflected his “standing up to people on Facebook who were ‘trolling’ him for his political views.”

The report noted elsewhere, “Supervisor Serna stated he understands County employees who are Trump supporters felt ‘degraded’ by his opinions. However, he explained he too felt degraded as a result of Trump ‘being the bigoted, racist, misogynist, dangerous individual that he is.’ ”

Serna also told the investigator he was unapologetic for his posts, but “it was never his intent to affect County employees’ ability to do work involving him or his office.” At the same time, he disagreed with those who believe his Facebook posts would might “affect County employees’ ability to do their work, particularly if the employee is not on his staff.”

The county employee who filed the harassment complaint acknowledged he has never worked with or met Serna. He told the investigator he doesn’t expect an apology or for the County Board to censure Serna. He said he thinks maybe “the investigation is enough” of a penalty for Serna.

Serna posted his original comments three days before the deadly Jan. 6 riot in D.C. by Trump supporters. On the same day as the riot, the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association filed their complaint against Serna and posted this in the afternoon on the association’s Facebook page.

The Deputy Sheriffs’ Associations claimed Serna also expressed “anti-law enforcement” sentiments in different posts, an assertion the investigator did not support. They said this reflected Serna’s past push to “defund” the Sheriff’s Department and demonstrate he is so biased that he will vote against any future union contract and will “taint” other members of the Board against the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association.

Nava said that union contract expires June 30, and negotiations are taking place presently .

The association’s president Kevin Mickelson also told the investigator he felt personally retaliated against by Serna when Serna reposted a photo of Mickelson wearing a Trump 2020 Covid mask. The photo indicates Mickelson had originally posted it in May 2020 as his personal Facebook cover photo.

In not sustaining the Deputy Sheriffs Association complaints, the investigator found Serna’s Facebook posts were “disconnected from the [Deputy Sheriffs’ Association] and thereby does not unreasonably interfere with the organization’s ability to fully represent its members.”

She also noted Serna and Mickelson were not co-workers “in contact in their daily work.”

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