Stanley Sniff Jr.'s appointment this week as Riverside County sheriff was a stunning turn of events for a one-time rising star whose law enforcement career seemed dead.
After a 28-year-career in the department, he was sent packing in December by Sheriff Bob Doyle. Sniff, an assistant sheriff, was handed a dismissal letter with no explanation and told to be out of the building in three hours. "There were a lot of people who would have been very despondent," said his close friend Richard Coz, a retired Riverside sheriff's captain who worked with Sniff from his earliest days in the department. "But he is very confident in himself. He took it in stride and was not vindictive in any way. . . . He was waiting his time to run for sheriff in 2010."
Sniff, 58, held his tongue. He traveled to Egypt and Turkey and hiked in Yosemite National Park, but he also nurtured his relationships with community groups and county leaders to smooth the way for a comeback.
Sniff's chance came far sooner than expected, when Doyle announced in August that he was leaving office three years early for a gubernatorial appointment to the state parole board.
During the three-week selection process for an interim sheriff, the Board of Supervisors heard a flood of allegations about Doyle's autocratic management style and accusations, which Doyle called "ridiculous," that he promoted only his most loyal followers.
Some of Doyle's critics, including top officials at the sheriff's union and Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco, lobbied the supervisors to appoint Sniff -- which they did Monday on a 3-2 vote.
Sniff's father, La Quinta Mayor Pro Tem Stanley Sniff, said his son's fall less than a year ago "made him more determined than ever" to take over the department.
"It's an amazing irony," the elder Sniff said. "You couldn't hardly write a movie script that would equal this."
After serving as a commander over the training center and the Riverside jail and as chief deputy of field operations on both sides of the county, Sniff was promoted to assistant sheriff by Doyle in 2004.
Just a month after he took charge of corrections, an attempted murder suspect and three other inmates escaped from a county jail near Murrieta by climbing through water pipes and shimmying down the side of the building using knotted bedsheets.
While an internal investigation found flaws in the building's design, Sniff took responsibility. "We erred in oversight," he said. "Ultimately it comes back to us."
Later that year, the county Corrections Department was roiled by findings that at least two jail deputies were having sex with female inmates at the Indio facility. Sniff credits one of his employees with flagging the misconduct after seeing a letter from an inmate.
Sniff said it was a lesson to his team to be more vigilant about the problems at the county's overcrowded jails.
"Inmates, as well as staff, had found a way to get around checks and balances," Sniff said, noting he pressed to add more cameras in the jails.
Doyle said Wednesday that Sniff's performance was "competent" up until 2006 -- just months before he fired him.
This week, Sniff said his interest in running for sheriff cost him his job. Doyle had a chosen successor and didn't want his plan to be derailed, Sniff said.
Doyle said that was never the case.
"The last time he talked to me [about career goals], he said he didn't have interest in running for sheriff," Doyle said. "If he had told me he had an interest in running for sheriff . . . I wouldn't have had any problem with that."
Doyle said he fired Sniff on the basis of about 15 incidents in which Sniff had acted inappropriately, but said he could not elaborate because it was a personnel matter.
"I don't think there's any organization that would keep an at-will employee that's not doing what's in the best interest of the sheriff or the organization," Doyle said. "He knows exactly why he was fired. It doesn't suit his purposes to be honest about it."
Sniff said he had no knowledge of any inappropriate incidents. "Mine was a no-cause release," he said.