San Diego County sheriff’s officials pushed some evictions while others languished for months, records show
Department says numerous factors dictate when evictions are served; retiring sergeant alleges political interference
Top commanders in the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department directed their subordinates to enforce some evictions during the last year while others languished for months, according to documents and a longtime sergeant.
Sgt. David Pocklington, who retired earlier this month after 28 years with the county, said he saw political motivation in the orders given to him and deputies under his command in the Court Services Bureau.
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Pocklington said he believes the evictions were orchestrated to help Sheriff Bill Gore and Undersheriff Kelly Martinez.
Although he did not provide evidence of any quid pro quo arrangements, Pocklington said evictions executed on behalf of neighbors of both Gore and Martinez and for a union official had sowed suspicion in the department.
Martinez is running to replace Gore as sheriff. Pocklington, who supports David Myers in next year’s election, said he was disturbed by what went on.
“Citizens of San Diego County expect their sheriff to apply the law equally and fairly to all,” he said. “This was not done.”
Instead, “Sheriff Gore manipulated evictions, treated the most vulnerable of our community like pawns in a chess match in order to gain political endorsements for Undersheriff Kelly Martinez and her run for sheriff,” he said.
Spokeswoman Lt. Amber Baggs said the Sheriff’s Department is legally obligated to enforce evictions and it does so in a fair, timely and impartial manner. Neither Gore nor Martinez has ever abused their positions to prioritize or change the trajectory of evictions, officials said.
“The Sheriff’s Department is required to follow legal notice requirements and garner the appropriate level of resources to ensure the lockout can be achieved as safely as possible,” Baggs said.
Department emails show several evictions were prioritized earlier this year, about the same time Gore named Martinez his new undersheriff and prepared to announce he would not run for reelection.
“We have been directed to proceed with the eviction process on 173-175 West Seaward Avenue #11, San Ysidro, CA 92173,” Lt. Victor Perry wrote to a Court Services Bureau deputy on March 4, 2021. “Please repost if needed. Complete the appropriate work-up and move forward.
“Please let me know when it’s completed.”
The order to proceed with the San Ysidro eviction was issued barely one month after the writ was formally posted, months sooner than in many other cases.
It also came more than four months before the 180-day window expired for the Sheriff’s Department to enforce Superior Court eviction decisions.
The San Ysidro eviction also came despite Pocklington’s official assessment that it should be delayed because the tenant had been a victim of domestic violence. She also had two small children and a permanent restraining order against her former spouse, according to his assessment.
“I would recommend in lieu of carrying out any eviction that we make contact with [the tenant] to assess her current status,” Pocklington had advised Perry. “Once we’ve assessed her status, we can then look at other resources for her.”
The San Ysidro apartment complex is owned by Dennis and Barbara Recker, who live a few minutes away from Martinez’s home in Fallbrook.
Neither of the landlords responded to requests for comment. Baggs said the undersheriff does not know the family and never spoke with them about speeding up the eviction.
Department emails raise questions about other evictions.
In another case earlier this year, the assistant sheriff in charge of the Court Services Bureau directed his staff to execute an eviction in Mission Hills — just across the street from Sheriff Gore’s home, and one day after a writ for removal was received.
“Thank you for the very quick service,” Assistant Sheriff Anthony Ray emailed his subordinates after being told the eviction would be expedited.
The Eagle Street home across the from the sheriff’s house is owned by Leslie C. Sheppard, property records show. Sheppard could not be reached for comment.
The department said the evictions in San Ysidro and Mission Hills were processed routinely, not for the benefit of Gore or Martinez.
“Our sheriff and undersheriff would never ask anyone in the Sheriff’s Department to do anything for their personal gain,” Baggs said. “They both maintain the highest integrity and are truly dedicated to providing fair and impartial services to every person in San Diego County.”
Officials also said the department prioritizes evictions based on a variety of factors, including criminal activity, health and safety issues related to COVID-19, the effect of the eviction on the surrounding community and the tenant’s ability to access new housing or social services.
“We balanced that with staffing shortages, increased opportunities to work with community resources to help individuals find alternative housing, and a myriad of other variables,” Baggs said.
Eviction proceedings originate with landlords who file “unlawful detainer” actions in San Diego County Superior Court.
Once a judge finds that a tenant has withheld rent or otherwise violated the rules of his or her occupancy, a writ, or court order, is issued. It is the Sheriff’s Department’s job to exercise evictions, a process that begins with a formal posting on the property.
The department’s eviction unit performs an analysis of each writ, including a background check on tenants and recent reports of calls for service to the property.
The COVID-19 pandemic declared in March 2020 slowed evictions in San Diego County and across the state and nation. Local, state and federal officials banned many evictions to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
But Sheriff’s Department lawyers determined the bans applied to landlords and property managers — not to legally issued writs.
“This moratorium applies to property owners seeking an eviction,” one department official wrote in March 2021. “This doesn’t stop/ halt the enforcement of the eviction writ that was granted by the court.”
According to an investigation published in July by the independent nonprofit news website Cal Matters, San Diego County was on the low end of California sheriff’s departments in the number of evictions executed.
Cal Matters said San Diego County served at least 239 residential evictions in the nine months ending March 31, 2021 — or just two for every 10,000 residents. Other counties reported as many as 26 residential evictions per 10,000 people.
Even so, at least three evictions pursued by the San Diego Sheriff’s Department were done at the direction of senior commanders while others were delayed, internal records show.
In June, for example, Assistant Sheriff Ray directed a commander to “follow up on the status” of an eviction in Chula Vista that had yet to be served, according to department emails.
The house is owned by Thomas Teagle, a prominent educators association leader who twice donated $100 to political campaigns of Mary Salas, the former state legislator who is now the Chula Vista mayor.
The house was cleared by sheriff’s deputies two days later. Teagle did not respond to a request for comment.
“Thanks, Chris,” Capt. Mike McClain wrote to a subordinate after the Chula Vista eviction. “I appreciate Dave and the deputies’ efforts to make this happen peacefully.”
A spokesperson for Salas said she never asked Gore to expedite an eviction to benefit a constituent.
Other property owners have not been so fortunate.
Numerous landlords have hired lawyers to lobby the Sheriff’s Department to move ahead with evictions that had not been processed for months.
“It is my understanding that lockouts may be moving forward more slowly than before the COVID-19 pandemic, but lockouts are in fact still moving forward,” attorney Patricia Coyne wrote to the department in April 2021, five months after her client’s tenant was served an eviction notice at a Chula Vista apartment.
Three days later, Coyne sent a nearly identical letter to the Sheriff’s Department over a different eviction in Pacific Beach that also had been initiated in November 2020.
“I am reaching out to you, at the request of our client, in regard to this particular matter due to the continued delays in the sheriff’s office performing a lockout in the above-referenced matter,” she wrote.
Deputies later executed the long-scheduled evictions at those properties. But other evictions that were pending at the same time were deliberately held up by department leaders, records show.
“Hold off on the remainder of these (evictions) until the expiration of the writ approaches or we receive additional information that would allow us to prioritize the locations for service,” an email from one lieutenant to his subordinate in early May said.
Some of the evictions directed by the Sheriff’s Department command staff came about the same time Gore was making changes in his department.
Former Undersheriff Mike Barnett announced his plan to retire in October 2020. The next month, Martinez changed her political registration from Republican to Democrat, and in March Gore announced that Martinez would take over as undersheriff.
Gore, now 74, spent more than 30 years with the FBI before retiring after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
He took a command position with the Sheriff’s Department and later was promoted to undersheriff. In 2009, when former Sheriff Bill Kolender retired in mid-term, he was appointed sheriff.
Gore was elected the following year and was reelected in 2014 and again in 2018.
In July, the sheriff announced he would not seek reelection, and the following week Martinez announced she was running for sheriff in 2022.
Within days, Martinez was endorsed by a host of prominent Democratic elected officials, including Rep. Juan Vargas, state Sen. Toni Atkins, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.
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