Rancho Tehama shooting is focal point for Tehama County sheriff's race

The exterior of the Tehama County Sheriff's Office in Red Bluff, CA.

In the run-up to the Tehama County sheriff's election on June 5th, the three candidates addressed the public's concerns over the November 2017 Rancho Tehama Elementary School shooting.

Jayne Vinson is the grandmother of two boys who attend Rancho Tehama Elementary School. She says her seven-year-old grandson's classroom was hit by gunfire during the shooting. Fortunately, he wasn't injured.

Vinson feels like the current sheriff's department didn't do enough to prevent the shooting.

"Schools are getting shot up. Our school was shot up! You know, and I just feel that they should have done more," Vinson said. "They should have got a search warrant, they should've done whatever it took."

Vinson is not alone.

Several people in Rancho Tehama said they're not satisfied with current Sheriff Dave Hencratt or his deputies.

Hencratt, a 30-year veteran of the Tehama County Sheriff's Office, insists he and his deputies did everything they could before, during and after the shooting.

"Our guys and gals that went out there during those calls for service... at times laid in wait for the person to, you know, show and commit another crime or commit a misdemeanor in their presence so they could make another arrest," Hencratt said. "We darn sure did our best out there, and people just can't accept that for some reason."

Mike Swithenbank is an investigator for the Tehama County District Attorney's Office, and one of the candidates challenging Hencratt for sheriff.

Swithenbank says there are ways the shooter, Kevin Janson Neal, could have been stopped.

"I believe there was enough probable cause with the calls that they received to go out and possibly do a search warrant to take his guns away," Swithenbank said.

Swithenbank was referring to 20 calls to the sheriff's office made by Neal, his wife and their neighbors in the year before the shooting.

Another candidate, Steven Harper, has spent 14 years in law enforcement and is currently a Corporal for the Red Bluff Police Department.

He thinks more could have been done to prevent Neal from posting bail, following a January 2017 arrest for six felony charges stemming from an assault on neighbors.

"Nobody ever did a bail enhancement on Mr. Neal," Harper said. "You know, jacking his bail up to $2-million because of the heinous crimes that he committed at the time."

But not everyone thinks the current sheriff is to blame.

Ronald Young has lived in Rancho Tehama for 12 years, and says he can count on the sheriff's office.

"Nine times out of ten they have a patrol unit here," Young said. "So if there's a call made, their response is immediate."

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