BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto Police Chief Bob Jonsen has filed to run for Santa Clara County Sheriff.
He said today (Jan. 12) that he will have a statement in the next day or so, and he wasn’t ready to talk about his campaign yet.
“I do think there needs to be a change in leadership,” he said.
Sheriff Laurie Smith took office in 1998. She is under fire from the Board of Supervisors, who have accused her of mismanaging the jail. District Attorney Jeff Rosen has charged Smith’s captains of bribery for allegedly giving out concealed carry permits in exchange for campaign donations.
Smith hasn’t filed paperwork to run, but three other candidates have: Sheriff’s Sgt. Christine Nagaye, retired Capt. Kevin Jensen and Dave Knopf, a retired assistant chief of the San Jose Police Department.
Jonsen, 59, has worked in law enforcement for 35 years, with the last four years as the chief in Palo Alto. He oversees a force of about 85 officers, and his second-in-command is Assistant Chief Andrew Binder.
Jonsen isn’t without his own share of controversy: The city has paid to settle multiple lawsuits in his tenure alleging police misconduct, and another case is still in court.
The department has been reluctant to disclose these uses of force, with most of the incidents coming to light in lawsuits or after California Public Records Act requests.
One of his former officers, Sgt. Wayne Benitez, was charged with assault and lying on a police report for slamming a handcuffed man into a car during an arrest in 2018. After the arrest, two officers exchanged messages celebrating Benitez’s actions, calling him by his nickname “The Fuse.”
Jonsen, who oversaw the department during the Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020, stresses mindfulness as a leader, and he teaches “courageous heart resiliency” classes to his officers.
Criticism from retiring officer
When Officer Chris Moore retired in October, he wrote a letter criticizing the department, and specifically Jonsen.
“You came here full of powerful speeches and sports analogies, but as the joke quickly became, you were stuck up on your meditative mountain and out of touch,” Moore wrote about the chief. “Under your helm, you took a sinking ship and shot holes in the bottom”
Jonsen said at the time that he doesn’t respond to specific comments made by a disgruntled employee, and he met with every officer individually to talk about the challenges they have faced since the start of the pandemic.
Before Palo Alto, Jonsen was the chief in Menlo Park from 2013 to 2017. When he left, elected officials and community members lauded him as approachable, charismatic and easy to work with. His ushering in of license plate readers and tasers in his first few months on the job raised concerns about privacy and use of force.
Jonsen spent the bulk of his career with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. From 2011 to 2013, he was the station chief in Lancaster, which settled with the Justice Department in 2015 later over allegations of harassment of black people and residents of public housing.
In August, the Post asked Jonsen about his future plans, and he said he was entertaining ways to support law enforcement outside of what he could accomplish as chief. He said he wanted to see some things through in Palo Alto before making any decisions.
Jonsen said his only other campaign experience was an unsuccessful try for Santa Clarita City Council decades ago.