KNOWN informally throughout the County as ‘Tom,’ the popular lawman announced Thursday he would retire in two weeks. “If it was up to me,” he said, “I’d be Sheriff until I was 80, but there comes a time when the reins have to be handed over, and that time is now.”
‘NOW’ will be Monday, December 28th, the Sheriff’s last day in office.
THE SHERIFF said he hoped the Supervisors would appoint 30-year veteran Under-Sheriff Matt Kendall as his replacement at Tuesday’s Supervisors meeting. “He’s ready,” Allman said. “If I thought he wasn’t I’d stay on.”
A VOLUBLE, friendly man, Allman, perhaps unique among California’s Sheriffs, is known and admired in every community in the County where he has sometimes seemed ubiquitous, appearing at events ranging from the community meetings he has frequently convened to funerals and even birthday parties. In years past the Sheriff was less of a presence in the life of sprawling Mendocino County, but from the day he took office Allman seemed to be everywhere, and quickly became the most popular public figure in the vastness lying between the Pacific to the west, the Yolly Bollys to the east. The Sheriff’s unique popularity has been reflected by the solid community relations enjoyed by his deputies.
ALLMAN will be difficult to succeed — a truly hard act to follow in the cliche — but Matt Kendall, his anointed successor, whose modest cowboy affect disguises a keen, shrewd intelligence is, like Allman, well-liked in the Sheriff’s Department and, in his 30-year career in the County, is also well known from Gualala to Covelo where Kendall grew up. (The Under-Sheriff’s roots go deep in the County, so deep that his pioneer ancestors settled Boonville, which they called Kendall City.)
THE SHERIFF emphasized “accessibility and accountability” as crucial to the success of the man in the County’s top cop job.
“I FIRST MET Matt when I was a 24-year-old deputy in Covelo,” Allman remembers with a chuckle. “Matt was 16. I made Matt and his buddy pour out the case of beer I caught them with.”
ELECTED SHERIFF after a close and bitter election which, like his unprecedented rise to become the County’s best known public figure, Allman’s election was unusual in that he was unanimously opposed by the department’s deputies who supported then-Captain Kevin Broin for Sheriff. But Allman managed to overcome that initial hostility to win not only support from his department, but the internal support necessary to achieve a number of innovative department programs, including a certificated baking class that teaches County Jail inmates a marketable skill, not to mention production of a superior loaf of bread. The Sheriff also began elementary computer instruction for County Jail inmates, renewed the emphasis on GED classes at the Jail, began an inmate garden, and has always made a general effort to convince the incarcerated young to get marketable skills. “Vocational training is very important to keep them from coming back,” Allman says. “Recidivism is a big deal. Parents come to me asking how to keep their kid from going back to jail, and these programs help to keep him from coming back. I hope some day we can close a whole wing of the jail. You know, the Sheriff in a rural county is in a unique position because he knows a lot of the people he deals with.”
“THERE was an average daily count of 325 persons in the County Jail when I came on, there’s 290 now, so a few people aren’t coming back.”
“IT’S not an easy job. We’ve had huge fires, floods, officer involved shootings, suicides at the jail I get lots of 3am phone calls. We’re always on duty.”
THE MENTION of Covelo, prompted this observation from Allman: “It isn’t fair that Covelo has a bad reputation. That comes mainly from the Press Democrat. If there’s a shooting in Santa Rosa it goes on page two of Empire News, but if there’s one in Covelo it goes on the front page. 95 percent of Covelo are fine people, but this reputation as the wild west is untrue and unfair.”
THE SHERIFF emphasized that he “won’t be sitting back,” but will remain involved with Measure B, the County ordinance he almost singlehandedly got passed into local law. “We didn’t have an in-County psychiatric facility, which we badly needed since the old Puff unit closed. I hope to be the Sheriff’s rep on the Measure B advisory board.”
THE PRIMACY of mental health among the Sheriff’s concerns clearly stems from the loss of his brother to suicide. Some Measure B money has helped establish a combined Sheriff’s substation and mental health training center at the former Redwood Valley Elementary School. Early in 2020 all Sheriff’s inland patrols, now headquartered on Low Gap Road, Ukiah, will re-locate to the old Redwood Valley church, allowing quicker access to both highways 101 and 20. Admin and the jail will remain at Low Gap.
ASKED if he didn’t sometimes feel like the little Dutch boy holding back a social breakdown deluge with a tiny finger in the dam, Allman paused, thought a minute, and said, “Our quality of life has got to improve. Before Kosovo I wouldn’t have said that.”
THE REFERENCE to Kosovo is to Allman’s year abroad with the United Nation’s Peacekeeping Force, a literal world a way for a rural boy born and raised in Garberville.
“ONE OF MY DEPUTIES said my time in Kosovo made me a liberal. Maybe. Over there you don’t arrest people for dope and prostitution, but for AK’s and rocket launchers. A translator’s mom told me the police station in her town had been wiped out by a cruise missile strike. I said that must have been terrible. ‘No,’ she said, ‘it was the best day of my life!’ My year there I worked under a police commissioner from Northern Ireland. The whole experience made me appreciate the democracy we have here. I did body digs, people thrown down wells, people who all looked the same murdering each other. You will be changed. I don’t know about becoming a liberal, but it gives you a prioritized sense of crimes, with murder and assaults at the top of the list.”
ASKED about relations with the famously truculent District Attorney, David Eyster, Allman replied, “It’s important for law enforcement to be on the same page as the District Attorney. We argue but not a lot. Lots of places the Sheriff is hostile to the DA and vice versa. Not here. I meet regularly with Eyster, especially when we’re aware that this or that person is out of control or especially dangerous to the community.”
“ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS I’ve had to do was in 2009 [during the economic downturn and budget problem] when I had to lay off five deputies that I’d hired. Fortunately, I was able to hire three of them back, and the other two found jobs in Idaho and Montana.
AS HE TICKS OFF the range of disasters he’s walked point on, the Sheriff is visibly saddened as he recalls the shocking 2014 murder of Fort Bragg’s enormously popular deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino by a berserk Oregon man. Prior, there was the 2011 Bassler interlude as the young Fort Bragg man, seemingly possessed, murdered Jere Melo, mayor of Fort Bragg, and Matthew Coleman, a land manager from Albion, tragedies that reverberate today. “It was doubly hard to face the deputy’s wife,” Allman remembers, “to confirm social media rumors that were two hours ahead of me. Social media complicates my life, but also in ways makes it better because it helps us get information out quicker.” (Allman added that retired department Captain Kurt Smallcomb was central to the complicated coordination of the month-long Bassler event.)
AS FOR THE BUREAUCRATIC end of the job, “Carmel [Angelo, County CEO] gets an A plus from me. I don’t know if the unions would agree, but she has done what she was hired to do. Always been able to work with her. We meet every week either by phone or in person. I’ve had a good relationship with Governor Brown; that certainly helped get us the $25 million for our new jail wing, and Congressman Mike Thompson has always been helpful, too.”
THE SHERIFF remains hugely disappointed that he hasn’t been able to solve the disappearance of Khadijah Britton, a young Covelo woman last seen being forced into the vehicle of her former boyfriend, a career criminal named Negie Fallis. “We’ve got 4,000 hours into the search for Khadijah and we’re still looking. We meet all the time to talk about unsolved cases.”
A LESS SANGUINARY disappointment? “We’re still unable to fill resident deputy positions despite fliers sent out all over the country. These are great jobs, and I don’t get why there’s no interest.”
ASKED specifically about Anderson Valley’s very own Mendo lawman, Luis Espinoza, the Sheriff was effusive. “He’s a rock star cop, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he some day became the County’s first Hispanic Sheriff.” Allman said there are presently two female deputies and a female sergeant. “We don’t get enough female and Hispanic applicants, but we do have 12 women working in the jail. We don’t want people who throw a lot of f-bombs and we don’t want to hire people who just want to beat people up.”
CONCLUDING, the Sheriff said that the county averages nine homicides a year now but violent crime is down. “If you take marijuana crimes out of the equation, crime is lower in Mendocino County than many places,” Allman said. Citing the Nixle alert system and reverse 911 now in place, he said, “it has worked well informing local residents of things they need to know.”
“I HOPE I’m not going to regret retiring,” the Sheriff said. “There is nothing better than being Sheriff of a rural county.”