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Scandal-Plagued Sacramento Lawmaker and Ex-Cop Considers Run for Sheriff

California Assemblymember Jim Cooper may seek to be Sacramento sheriff once more—despite sexual harassment allegations and a long history of outlandish antics.

Photo of Assemblymember Jim Cooper
California Assemblymember Jim Cooper.Photo illustration by Kat Wawrykow. Photo from

California Assemblymember Jim Cooper announced Tuesday that he is mulling a run for county sheriff. Cooper, a former Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy, tweeted that he’s “been asked by many elected officials and citizens across the county to seek the open Sheriff’s seat in Sacramento County in 2022.”

His resume calls into question who would ask him to run at all.

Cooper, a Democrat from Elk Grove in Sacramento County, spent more than 30 years working his way up the ranks at the sheriff’s office before becoming his city’s founding mayor in 2000 (while still working as a cop) and, finally, an Assembly member in 2014. In that time, he led a scandal-plagued life in public service, including an incident in which he admittedly called the then-mayor of Elk Grove “a bitch.” He also was accused of overseeing a county jail where suicides spiked and deputies forced women to strip and dance for them, and was involved in another incident in which a judge issued a restraining order against him after he allegedly threatened to shoot a man in the back of the head. (Cooper denied wrongdoing in each incident. The restraining order was lifted days later.)

Perhaps most notably, while working as a sheriff’s deputy in 2005, Cooper was reportedly investigated by Internal Affairs after he was anonymously accused of asking a woman who’d recently gotten engaged if she wanted some “jungle love” before getting married. Although Cooper denies any wrongdoing or that the incident constituted sexual harassment, he has stated in the past that he believed the remark was an “off-color joke in the workplace.”

Since winning a seat in the California Assembly as a moderate Democrat six years ago, Cooper has pushed for a series of pro-law-enforcement policies, including a failed 2017 bill opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union that would have made it easier for police and immigration agents to search the phones of Californians. He’s faced near-constant criticism from progressives: In 2019, Lara Bazelon, a professor of law at the University of San Francisco, assailed Cooper’s pro-law-enforcement record as a lawmaker and told The Appeal that he “uses charged language to make people feel angry, vulnerable, and reactive, which then promotes the policies he wants. It’s all about propping up mass incarceration and fighting change.”

Cooper faced a strong challenger in the 2020 primary for his District 9 Assembly seat, which may potentially have factored into his consideration of a different office in 2022.

Cooper did not respond to a request for comment from The Appeal.

If Cooper runs, this won’t be his first attempt at the job. In 2010, he lost to current Sheriff Scott Jones, whose own record as a cop seemed somewhat comparable to Cooper’s. In 2018, the Sacramento Bee’s editorial board compared Jones to Bull Connor, the segregationist who was the public safety commissioner in Birmingham, Alabama, during the civil rights era. That year, Jones had launched a personal war against the county’s inspector general, who had been investigating his deputies’ killing of Mikel Laney McIntyre, a former Major League Baseball prospect who was shot at 28 times during a mental health crisis. (Seven bullets hit him.) The Bee’s editorial board then flatly stated that Jones was “on the wrong side of civil rights.”

Jones’s deputies also were filmed kneeling on 36-year-old Marshall Miles inside the county jail on Oct. 28, 2018, as Miles screamed for help during a mental health crisis and said he could “feel the oxygen going out of my mouth.” Miles was pronounced dead later that night—an autopsy later said he died, in part, due to the way Jones’s deputies restrained him. Miles’s family is suing Jones in federal court. Although the department has denied the family’s allegations, lawyers for Miles’s wife and children assailed Jones in an interview with The Appeal in June.

There seemed to be a complete ignorance and lack of knowledge about the safe way to restrain somebody on the ground in that manner,” attorney Jeremy Lessem said.

But while the Sacramento County sheriff’s office has had its share of controversy, Cooper’s individual record raises significant questions about his integrity as both a cop and lawmaker. In 2005, when Cooper was both a sheriff’s deputy and Elk Grove City Council member, Sacramento County released a grand jury report stating that he failed to recuse himself from a vote to contract Elk Grove’s police services to the sheriff’s office. The report also alleged Cooper engaged in “shouting matches” with the Elk Grove city attorney in an attempt to get his way. Cooper denied wrongdoing and says he was told by the city attorney that he could take part in the votes.

In 2019, a review of Cooper’s state Assembly record by The Appeal found that he’d taken a significant amount of donations from bail bond agents, law enforcement unions and organizations, and corporate interests during his time as a lawmaker. While serving in the Assembly, Cooper has fought to roll back criminal legal system reforms. In 2017, he announced he was joining a coalition of lawmakers backing a ballot measure called the Keep California Safe Act, which would have forced certain people convicted of misdemeanor offenses to submit DNA to a database and added 22 charges to the list of offenses not eligible for parole. The measure finally went before California voters last monthand failed. In 2018, Cooper, who has taken tens of thousands of dollars from the bail bond industry, fought against Senate Bill 10, which would have ended California’s cash bail system.

A thank you to Assemblyman JIM COOPER for voting NO on SB10,” the Twitter account for Lipstick Bail Bonds, a Los Alamitos company run by two retired, Trump-supporting Los Angeles Police Department cops, tweeted that year. “JIM COOPER Supports Victims NOT the Criminals.”