By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Greater Sacramento NAACP President, Betty Williams

The president of the Greater Sacramento National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) stated in a press release that two candidates for local office had “disrespected” the local civil rights organization.

Greater Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams wrote the press release, dated May 19, following a candidates forum May 11. Thien Ho, a county prosecutor and candidate for Sacramento County district attorney, skipped the forum altogether. Undersheriff Jim Barnes, who is running for county sheriff, “decided to attack” Williams in response to a question, the letter stated.

“The Greater Sacramento NAACP is disappointed with both candidates, Ho and Barnes, as they clearly disrespected our community, the oldest civil rights organization in the nation with their actions,” the release read.

“When a person shows you who they are, believe them,” Williams added.

Ho faces Alana Mathews in the district attorney’s race, while Barnes vies for sheriff against Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove).

The NAACP and Wiley Manuel Bar Association co-hosted the forum at McGeorge School of Law in Oak Park. Mathews and Cooper, both of whom attended, could be the county’s first African Americans elected to their respective offices.

Williams recently questioned the hiring practices of the sheriff’s office and of the City of Rancho Cordova, the latter questioning the timing of promoting African American Brandon M. Luke to police chief.

Kate Adams, a former Sacramento County sheriff’s captain and Rancho Cordova police chief, has been placed on administrative leave with the county for misconduct, which included the distribution of racially charged text messages, memes and photographs.

One image Adams is accused of exchanging with employees features a White man spraying a young Black boy in an inflatable swimming pool with a garden hose. An inscription on the photo reads, “Go be a N—– Somewhere else.”

While under internal investigation for misconduct, Adams announced her retirement Sept. 16 after 27 years. A month later, Rancho Cordova City Manager Cyrus Abhar announced Luke’s appointment.

Williams publicly said a “cover-up” could explain why the investigation ended upon Adams’ retirement. Barnes said he didn’t have “all the details” of the investigation of Adams, but was sure that whoever exposed the images to the public only did it to “paint the sheriff’s office in a negative way.”

“I love you and I respect you for what you do, but to say what you said about (Adams) and (Luke) getting that based on the color of his skin was so damaging to him and his family,” Barnes said at the forum.

As for Luke, who also serves as commander of the Sheriff’s Office East Division out of the Kilgore Police Station, Barnes said he does “amazing work” and is a community leader.

Cooper said at the candidates forum that the investigation should have remained active despite Adams’ retirement. 

“There still should have been a ruling on her,” he said.

Williams said Barnes apologized to her after the forum for his response.

“I prefer he did it publicly,” Williams said. “This was a personal and professional attack. It takes a lot of gall to be in a predominantly African American audience to go after a civil rights leader.”

The forum, the NAACP stated, provided an “equal opportunity with every question presented” to the candidates in advance.

Ho was the only no-show. Superior Court judge candidates Myrlys Stockdale Coleman and Noel Cavillo also participated.

Williams said Ho has attended other political and public events and that she has seen him fully engaged with audiences that are not predominantly Black.

“Thien Ho, not showing up for the African American community, was disrespectful and it appears he’s more comfortable in other settings, being fully engaged with audiences that’s not predominantly Black,” Williams said. “You’re asking for our votes to support you and yet you could be responsible for the jailing and imprisonment of our community.”

Ryan Harrison, president of Wiley Manuel Bar Association, documented at least four attempts between March 24 and April 30 to confirm Ho’s participation and work with his schedule.

“He finally responded that he had another event scheduled on the same evening. However, two other candidates also had other events and found a way to attend the candidate forum,” the release states.

The OBSERVER reached out to Ho by telephone and email to provide his reasoning for missing the forum. An email sent on his behalf by communications consultant Susie Wong dated May 30 revealed his campaign’s perspective of the forum.

“Thien Ho and Alana Mathews have appeared at dozens of events together. Unfortunately, organizers of the May 11 forum, who are also public supporters of Ms. Mathews, were informed of a scheduling conflict and did not offer another day or even bother to respond,” Wong wrote.

The OBSERVER then made another request that Ho respond directly to the question himself but as of press time, he has not. Williams said this is the second time a candidate for district attorney has dodged the NAACP. Anne Marie Schubert, the current D.A., backed out on a candidate forum hosted by the local NAACP four years ago, citing having received threats before the event held at Genesis Baptist Church in South Sacramento.

Williams said it was extremely important for Ho to be at the forum. The Black community is the most affected group in the criminal justice system. Schubert, running for the state attorney general, has endorsed Ho.

“We offer these forums to give the community an opportunity to ask questions. We’re not leaning one way or the other,” Williams said.”

Aside from the issues with local candidates, Williams and the NAACP are bringing awareness to three constitutional races involving African Americans.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and Secretary of State Dr. Shirley N. Weber seek reelection. Malia Cohen, president of the Board of Equalization, is running for state controller.

“We have never had three African Americans who are constitutional officers for the state of California,” Williams said. “History could be made if we bring that forward.”