Monday, July 2, 2012

(Merced County) Civil grand jury finds hiring complaint invalid

Panel: Workers need confidentiality training


Buzz about an illegally hired correctional officer was one of the topics investigated by this year's Merced County civil grand jury, but the complaint was found to be invalid.

Instead, the grand jury recommended that sheriff's workers get further training on confidentiality and the consequences of breaching it, which led to the complaint in the first place.

Every year, a civil grand jury made up of 19 residents inspects local government agencies throughout the county and addresses complaints of mistreatment, misconduct or inefficiency.

The civil grand jury recommended sheriff's workers get further training on confidentiality and the consequences of breaching it.

After getting the complaint about the Sheriff's Department, the panel examined several documents, including personnel files, department policies and testimony transcripts to find out if the employee in question had failed a background check and was hired illegally.

The group determined that the employee in question did meet the minimum qualifications for the job.

But during the investigation, the grand jury learned that a background investigation unit trainee had divulged personal and confidential information to co-workers, according to the report.

The grand jury also found that specific documents and information it was seeking were revealed to others as well.

At one point, the grand jurors looking into the allegations got a call from the complainant with information regarding specific documents they were looking for, leading them "to believe that what (they) were trying to determine during (their) investigation was also leaked," according to the report.

The complaint came about because bits and pieces of confidential information were improperly revealed and led some people to wrongly assume the correctional officer in question had been hired illegally, said Dan Gaines, foreman of the 2011-12 civil grand jury.

"It was pretty obvious that information had been leaked to the wrong people, and unfortunately, the information leak was only partial," he said.

'Selective memory'

When the grand jury started investigating the claim, Gaines said those interviewed suddenly had "selective memory."

"Obviously, any personnel records should be held in confidentiality," Gaines said. "It seems that possibly more people had access to information than should have, then acted on that information."

Deputy Tom MacKenzie, sheriff's spokesman, said that even though the complaint was unfounded, the department will look into the confidentiality issues and work to resolve any problems.

"If the grand jury looked into it and found that there were no erroneous or faulty procedures in our hiring, then it sounds like the accusation was baseless," he said. Sheriff's officials will try to determine where the leaked information came from and deal with it accordingly, MacKenzie noted.

If it's someone who shouldn't have access to the files, the department will take steps to ensure that it doesn't happen again, he said. The department will either make files more secure or provide more training on who is allowed to have access to them and what should be treated as confidential.

"Regardless of who it was, obviously we will provide more training on what is allowed to be released and what's not," MacKenzie said. The complaint against the correctional officer was one of 16 received by the 2011-12 civil grand jury. Six were investigated.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or

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