Last month several letters criticizing Hamilton were read into the record at the Sierra County Commission May 19 meeting.
In distinct contrast, at the June 16 meeting, public response applauded Hamilton’s participation in and deputizing of “Cowboys for Trump” rally attendees May 17, as well as his mass deputization of New Hope Revival churchgoers May 3.
Most of the letters said Hamilton was one of the few bulwarks preventing further erosion of constitutional rights and assumed Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic violated the constitution.
There were 10 letters read into the record supporting Hamilton.
Four of the 10 letters meted out criticism to County Commissioner Frances Luna, who questioned Hamilton during the May 19 County Commission meeting. A fifth letter criticized the whole County Commission’s treatment of Hamilton during the meeting.
The County Commission handles lawsuits and the questions were in preparation for an executive session to follow the meeting in which “pending and threatened litigation” was to be discussed. A letter was sent by the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s attorney.
The letter said Hamilton violated the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. His actions sought to “not only promote your religious views using your position as sheriff, but to literally share the power of your office exclusively with Christians by making them special deputies with additional rights under the law.”
Citing several U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the Establishment Clause, the letter said the “government cannot in any way promote, advance, or otherwise endorse religion.”
The County Commission, after executive session, voted unanimously to have County Manager Bruce Swingle meet with the Governor’s office to discuss Hamilton’s actions.
The letters criticizing Luna and the Commission did not consider the Commission’s duty to respond to threatened litigation.
Luna said, at the May 19 meeting, “I am scared to death of the legal ramifications.”
She had seen the videos of the May 3 and May 17 events erupting across social media. The points of view expressed at the church podium and outside the church during the rally were “as radical as far as can be,” she said.
She feared recruiting among these groups instead of among retired law enforcement was dangerous, since they didn’t “know the rules.”
Hamilton said he was deputizing among retired law enforcement and non-religious groups, but Luna noted he had no proof; “You also don’t have a list to show people differently.”
Hamilton is not required by law to report how many or who he has recruited as special deputies. He also does not have to reveal who he has called into active service as a special deputy.
Jim Leffingwell said, “I find it appalling that the Sierra County Commission has attacked probably the best sheriff this county has ever had. Is the Commission following the footsteps of our ‘illustrious’ Governor, just doing what you feel like regardless of the law?”
Mary Ann Leffingwell said, “I do not understand how Commissioner Luna thinks she has any authority over an elected official. I also question why the Commission would want a meeting with the Governor. I am appalled at the actions of the Commission at the May 19, 2020 meeting, especially Commissioner Luna.”
Gary Cole said, “I find Ms. Luna’s comparison of deputizing to toilet paper demeaning and offensive . . . Law Enforcement Officers . . .etc., hold that Oath they take a lot more precious than your toilet paper.”
Tanya Reed cautioned Luna not to be swayed by social-media reactions to videos posted of Sheriff Hamilton, which “do not represent the whole community.”
Reed said Luna was captured on video attending graduation ceremonies. She was not practicing social distancing or wearing a mask, which could similarly become a “misperception on social media,” and “could cause calls to the Governor.”
Tammy Lane said she was “appalled” by Luna’s statements toward Hamilton, which “showed disrespect.” Luna meant to “persecute and reprimand him as if she were his superior,” Lane said. Hamilton was standing up for the “First Amendment rights denied to church goers,” and without the intercession of people like him “this will become a socialist nation.” She said Luna had proclaimed herself a Christian but had not acted like one.
Luna was asked if she wanted to respond to public comment and emailed the following:
“During the May meeting, I expressed the questions and comments that I heard from numerous constituents of both myself and the Sheriff. While today, we heard from a handful of his supporters, I have never received so many calls with concerns on a single issue as this. Commissioner Day and myself both expressed the concerns relayed to us during that time.
“I believe many support the Sheriff, however, we were concerned with his lack of record keeping, background checks and method of the deputizing.
“We did request a meeting with the governor, to which we never received a response, to my knowledge.”