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Kern County sheriff is caught on tape saying it costs less to kill suspects than to wound them

Kern County sheriff is caught on tape saying it costs less to kill suspects than to wound them
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood is known for making controversial remarks. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

In blue California, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood has long bucked the liberal trend.

He's fought California's "sanctuary state" movement, asked that Kern be labeled a "law and order" county and stood up for deputies accused of misconduct.

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When the county paid $3.4 million to the family of a man who died in a confrontation with his deputies, Youngblood opposed the settlement and chastised family members, wondering aloud whether they wished "their loved one hadn't been a meth addict."

Now, the sheriff faces new questions.

He was caught on videotape telling an employees union that it is better "financially" to kill suspects than to "cripple" them.

The release of the 12-year-old recording comes as the union representing Kern County's jailers is endorsing Youngblood's opponent in the upcoming election.

Youngblood was seeking the union's endorsement in 2006 when he posed the question: "When a deputy shoots somebody, which way is better financially? To cripple them or kill them, for the county?"

"Kill them?" can be heard out of view of the camera. "Absolutely," Youngblood responds, "because if you cripple them you have to take care of them for life and that cost goes way up."

The minute-long video made public Monday by the union shows Youngblood during an interview before his 2006 election sitting at a table facing an audience. The sheriff, who is out of uniform, is discussing the union giving him an endorsement when the topic turns to the loss of life involving police and the matter of dollars and cents.

The sheriff said the difference between killing and wounding a person on the street or in custody is millions and millions of dollars.

"When a guy makes a bad shooting on somebody and kills them? Three million bucks and the family goes away after a long back and forth," he said. "When it happens in corrections, it's a totally different ballgame."

The remarks are particularly controversial because the Guardian newspaper in 2015 found that the county had the nation's highest per capita rate of killings by police officers. The state attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union have ongoing investigations into the department.

Youngblood in an interview Tuesday said that any implication he was encouraging deputies to kill is not true. "I never inferred we shoot to kill. We don't shoot to wound. We shoot to stop a threat," he said.

The sheriff said his remarks were made 12 years ago before he was elected, and he was discussing an incident that led to charges against a deputy in the jail when the conversation branched to costs. He said he was trying to get across that just because someone does not die, does not mean it costs the county less. "Those are my words, and if I did it again I would do it differently," he added.

The sheriff said Kern County's economy has meant deputies have not had a pay raise in eight or nine years, and that is creating a lot of disenchantment and seems to be the reason for the video's release by the union.

A Vietnam War veteran, Youngblood grew up working in the potato sheds around Bakersfield and said he's happiest hiking or riding his quarter horse, Sparky.

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He has raised the ire of Democrats for his willingness to involve immigration authorities in his jails. Youngblood asked the county Board of Supervisors to adopt a resolution that would declare Kern a "law and order" county, not a "sanctuary" county.

The American Civil Liberties Union last year issued a report critical of the force used by the Kern County Sheriff's Department and Bakersfield Police Department, accusing both agencies of shooting and killing people at a higher rate than comparable departments.

But it is Youngblood's management style that has led to a rebellion by some deputies. The 300-member detention officers union is actively campaigning for Youngblood's opponent, Justin Fleeman, a chief deputy. Fleeman has questioned Youngblood's use of resources, oversight and decision-making.

In 2006, the same union endorsed Youngblood after the recording. All three unions representing deputies have endorsed Youngblood's challenger in the June primary.

The detention officers union in a Facebook post said the department is in "desperate need of positive changes for the betterment of all of Kern County citizens."

"Your Detention Deputies know it is time to elect a new Sheriff who will bring a fresh approach and new ideas."

The union has declined to make public the entire tape.

Twitter: @lacrimes

UPDATES:

5:35 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details.

This article was originally published at 5:30 p.m.

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