California sheriff Chad Bianco, a former member of two far-right “patriot movement” groups, will be given the 2023 Sheriff Award by the rightwing think tank Claremont Institute, despite the fact that the Riverside county department (RCSD) that he oversees is facing criminal allegations and a state investigation into death rates in its jail. Bianco’s award will be presented by the former attorney general Jeff Sessions, who served in the Trump administration, the Guardian reports. Bianco is a defendant in at least half a dozen lawsuits filed on behalf of people who died while incarcerated in Riverside county’s jail system, including three filed last month, according to media reports and federal court records . Eighteen people incarcerated in Riverside county’s jails died in 2022 alone – the largest number of deaths in the county’s system since 2005. Nine people have died in custody this year, according to county records. In February, California’s department of justice announced a probe into in-custody deaths in the county. Last month, the Press-Enterprise, the newspaper of record in Riverside county, described his administration as a “complete disaster” in an editorial.
The Claremont Institute has been described as the “nerve center of the American right”, gaining prominence after senior fellow John Eastman became one of the main faces of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Bianco was a Claremont sheriffs fellow in the inaugural intake in 2021, and has also had associations with far-right “patriot movement” groups: the Oath Keepers, and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). The latter organization holds that sheriffs should refuse to enforce state and federal laws they deem unconstitutional, and rallied members against enforcing public health measures during the Covid-19 pandemic. Devin Burghart, the executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, which monitors and researches extremist groups, said that Bianco was one of many sheriffs who “use the far-right ‘constitutional sheriff’ mythology to paper over law enforcement abuses of power.” Claremont’s senior communications director, David Bahr, wrote in an email that the institute is “pleased to honor Sheriff Bianco, who won re-election last year in Riverside County with nearly 60 percent of the vote, with our American Sheriff Award”.