In The News

Napa sheriff’s candidate Jon Crawford received $500,000 settlement following departure from undersheriff job in 2021


Napa Valley Register | April 16, 2022

Jon Crawford, the former Napa County undersheriff who is running against Sheriff Oscar Ortiz in this year’s election, received a $500,000 settlement from the county after his departure from the sheriff’s office last year — an exit Crawford said was forced on him because of his pursuit of the county’s top law-enforcement job.

Crawford on Wednesday confirmed receiving the payout — approved last year by the Napa County Board of Supervisors — a deal he said arose from the appeal of his termination as second-in-command at the sheriff’s office in June 2021.

In an interview with the Napa Valley Register, Crawford gave his most detailed account of his departure from the sheriff’s office, which he had earlier described as a termination for “purely political” reasons. The sole cause of his exit, he said, was choosing to run for sheriff against Oscar Ortiz, whom former Sheriff John Robertson endorsed as his successor before retiring last June.

Ortiz won the approval of Napa County supervisors and is running for a full four-year term on the June 7 primary ballot.

“I really have done nothing wrong in this whole thing,” said Crawford. “That’s why I said it was all political. I didn’t disparage anyone or interfere with the operation of the sheriff’s office.”

County spokesperson Leah Greenbaum confirmed the size of the payment to Crawford and its approval by supervisors. She described the settlement as resulting from a “personnel dispute” that did not result in finding fault with Crawford or the sheriff’s office, but declined to share further details on Crawford’s exit after 22 years with the department.

“Because the matter is of a personnel nature, the County cannot disclose the settlement agreement unless Mr. Crawford signs a release,” Greenbaum said in an April 8 email, citing an exception to California public records law for “personnel, medical or similar files.”

A letter from Robertson to Crawford dated June 5, 2021, obtained by the Register, is titled “Re: Notice of Termination” and informs Crawford he may appeal the decision according to the county’s grievance procedures for managers.

“I am hereby releasing you from your at-will position as Undersheriff from the Napa County Sheriff’s Department, effective immediately,” the letter reads. “Please turn in your badge, access keys, County vehicle, and all other County issued equipment. This decision was difficult, but necessary to preserve the smooth and efficient operations of the Sheriff’s Department.”

Crawford, who had served as Napa County undersheriff for three years, left the agency less than three weeks after announcing his candidacy for sheriff on May 14. His campaign launched as then-Sheriff John Robertson was preparing for his retirement, which took effect June 26.

Word of his removal came by way of an evening phone call from Robertson on or about June 2, 2021, Crawford said, adding that the decision came from Robertson and not anyone else in county administration.

“He called me at home and said my campaign was causing pain and discomfort to people around the county,” he said. “What he said was that he’d put me on administrative leave for three days, and I could clean out my office if I wanted. I said OK. What else do you say to that?

“When you’re told your campaign is the reason for your dismissal, that means it’s political. I was an at-will employee; if my performance was not up to snuff, he could easily have transferred me to another assignment or let go of me. None of that happened until I ran for sheriff and started campaigning.”

Reached by the Register on Thursday afternoon, Robertson denied pressuring Crawford to quit the department due to his electoral aspirations.

When Robertson initially told Crawford of his decision to recommend Ortiz — a 26-year sheriff’s office veteran who was then the American Canyon police chief — to succeed him, Crawford said he was willing to work with Ortiz, according to Robertson.

After Crawford announced his campaign for sheriff, Robertson added, he was offered the option of being reassigned as a captain while still running for sheriff, but declined.

Having Napa’s new sheriff face a ballot-box challenge from his second-in-command proved untenable, according to Robertson.

“You can’t have the undersheriff running against the sheriff,” he said of the position, whose holder works at-will and at the sheriff’s discretion. “It’s like the vice president running against the president; it doesn’t work.”

“The decision was actually Jon Crawford’s to leave the sheriff’s office,” said Robertson, who added he backed Ortiz based on his work experience and community support. “It comes down to his political ambition to be sheriff, which is troubling. And I’m glad I’ve made the decision that I made.”

Later Thursday, Crawford replied he had assured Robertson he would uphold his law enforcement duties above all other considerations, no matter who his superior was.

“My response was that I’m a professional, and in no way, shape or form would I ever endanger lives or property to make the sheriff or sheriff’s office look bad, or risk people’s lives or property over political ambitions,” he said.

“If I had left of my own volition, why would it have been settled in the manner it was settled? It’s just not the case.”

Within days of leaving the sheriff’s office, Crawford said, he filed an appeal that eventually reached the Board of Supervisors, which approved a settlement that fall after meeting in closed session. (The date of the closed meeting was not immediately available.) Crawford said he signed the agreement in December and received $500,000 as a lump sum.

Since leaving the undersheriff’s job, Crawford has concentrated on his election race against Ortiz.

The following month, Ortiz, who was then the American Canyon police chief, won county supervisors’ approval to complete the rest of Robertson’s term as sheriff through 2022. During the May 18 meeting when Ortiz was selected, Supervisor Ryan Gregory said he had considered having the board interview both Ortiz and Crawford for the sheriff’s position, but in the end, honored Robertson’s recommendation.

Ortiz officially declared his candidacy on June 21 for a full four-year term as sheriff.

Napa County later announced Crawford’s departure from the sheriff’s office but branded the exit “a personnel matter” and declined to explain why the undersheriff left.

“It’s purely political; there’s no other way of putting it,” the former undersheriff then told the Register, although he declined to share further details at the time. “I have an untarnished career. I’ve spent 22 years doing the best I can do to bring honor to the profession and the county. Nothing has changed.”

Ortiz and Crawford are scheduled to appear Tuesday evening in a sheriff candidates’ forum organized by the League of Women Voters of Napa County. The virtual forum will take place via Zoom from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

To view the candidate forum, visit https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86326514512?pwd=V1RqS0xVVTliWTRLUVJsemRhdHNCdz09, meeting ID 863 2651 4512, passcode 490182. A Spanish-language simulcast will be available.

For more information, visit lwvnapa.com/events-calendar.


View Original Publication: Napa Valley Register