California Sheriff Once Said it Was ‘Financially Better’ to Kill Than Badly Injure Suspects

People protest against police shootings in Kern county, which has the highest rate of deaths in the US.

The sheriff of a county profiled by the Guardian after it was found to have the highest rate of killings by police in the US once said it is “better financially” for local authorities if officers kill suspects rather than badly injure them.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood of Kern county, California, who is currently running for re-election, made the remarks while addressing rank-and-file officers during his first campaign in 2006. Video of the meeting was recently found by an officers’ union.

“You know what happens 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,” Youngblood said.

He went on to say: “Which way do you think is better financially – to cripple them or kill them – for the county?” An unidentified man offscreen said “kill them”, to which Youngblood replied: “Absolutely. Because if they’re crippled we get to take care of them for life. And that cost goes way up.”

The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kern county was the subject of a Guardian series after 13 people were killed there by law enforcement officers during 2015. During the same period, nine people were killed by the NYPD in all of New York City, which had almost 10 times as many residents and about 23 times as many law enforcement officers.

The series prompted inquiries by California’s attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which are ongoing. The number of killings by police in the county subsequently fell sharply. The Guardian found five people were killed there in 2016. The Mapping Police Violence project found six deaths in 2017.

The Kern County Detention Officers Association posted the video to its Facebook page on Monday. The group, which represents about 300 of Youngblood’s deputies, called for the sheriff to be replaced, saying that their department was in “desperate need of positive changes” and urging voters to select a sheriff with new ideas.

Chris Ashley, a director of the association, told the Guardian that the group was “disgusted” by the sheriff’s remarks. “But we have been disgusted with Donny Youngblood’s leadership for more than a decade,” he said.

Ashley said the entire discussion lasted more than an hour and covered other “concerning things” but that the group was not yet prepared to release the full tape.

Youngblood is running for re-election against his chief deputy, Justin Fleeman – the first time that he has faced an opponent since entering office. The contest is also the first that Youngblood has faced since the Guardian’s series in 2015. Fleeman has been endorsed by all three unions of officers at the sheriff’s department.

Ashley said his group was concerned primarily about understaffing and mandatory overtime shifts.

“Our personal feeling is that [Youngblood] doesn’t care about our families, and it has taken a toll on all of us,” he said. “People are leaving for jobs as gardeners, bus drivers, janitors, truck drivers, and other law enforcement agencies. People are just worn out. We’re exhausted. We can’t take it any more.”