El Dorado County Sheriff D’Agostini leaving on high note

Noel Stack / Mountain Democrat
County law enforcement, elected officials and residents filled the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors chambers Dec. 13 to thank Sheriff John D'Agostini for his work over his past three terms. D'Agostini is pictured at the center of this group photo holding a proclamation in his honor.

“John D’Agostini saved my son’s life.”

Tearful mother Kelley Nalewaja joined many others in thanking El Dorado County’s retiring sheriff by sharing a very personal story at the county Board of Supervisors Dec. 13 meeting. 

“My son was 19. He was in the midst of addiction,” she recalled of the incident 10 years ago in which her son was arrested and she frantically called the sheriff for advice.

“John told me to take a breath and to let them do their job and that he’s got me and that he’s got my kid,” she recalled. “As an El Dorado Hills mother of what some might describe as a white, privileged child, I was scared sh**less … but John said, ‘I’ve got you. I’ve got your son. Don’t bail him out. It’s going to be OK.’

“I had to sit there and see my baby with his little blue eyes scared to death in his little orange jumpsuit behind the glass … and tell him, ‘I’m sorry. You’re going to have to face your consequence; I can’t bail you out,’” she continued. “And that turned my son’s life around.”

D’Agostini’s compassion, his willingness to pick up the phone no matter the hour, his authenticity and respect for the law were lauded by many speaking at the board meeting and calling in during public comment.

“He’s got an uncanny ability to make the people he’s speaking with feel like the only people in the room and that authenticity is something that’s unparalleled,” said newly elected county Assessor John DeVille, who began working in El Dorado County in the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office fiscal division. “Whether he’s talking to somebody in dispatch, somebody in fiscal, a deputy — when he’s speaking with you, he connects.”

Camino resident Sue Taylor commended D’Agostini for being invested in the community — solving problems with the U.S. Forest Service’s harassment of residents, providing shelter at the family’s south county ranch during the Caldor Fire and staying calm when the pandemic hit.

“I really appreciate how he stepped up during the tyrannical time of COVID, when so many other jurisdictions were being harassed and terrorized,” Taylor said. “He made a stand that that wouldn’t happen here.”

Others praised D’Agostini’s leadership.

“The version of the sheriff’s department that I see today is by far and away greater than … what I saw when I got here,” noted Chief Probation Officer Brian Richart. “Not that what we had was a bad sheriff’s department then, but we have a better sheriff’s department today and that is undoubtedly due to the leadership of John.”

“Any great leader knows the way. They model the way, they show others the way and they go the way,” said Sheriff-elect Jeff Leikauf. “That’s exactly what we’ve had over the last 11 years, 11 months and 14 days, I think.”

Leikauf praised both the sheriff and his wife Janine, who also helped change the culture of the agency with the Thrive with 10-35 nonprofit that supports EDSO employees and their families. “They have taught us the right way to do business here,” Leikauf said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work for six sheriffs in my career and what we’ve been able to accomplish and learn under Sheriff D’Agostini and what we’ve been able to do in our community has set precedence.

“I’m going to have him on speed dial, I’m sure,” the sheriff-elect added, “and look forward to our many outings that we partake in where he can fill me in on things and keep me on the straight and narrow.”

He concluded, “We love you and we’re going to miss you.”

“This has been the most rewarding, and frustrating at times, 12 years of my life,” said Sheriff D’Agostini, who announced his retirement in July 2021. “I’ve had a rewarding career.”

His official retirement date is Dec. 30, just 10 days shy of a full 30 years in law enforcement.

“I’m leaving at a time that I think every elected (official) dreams of leaving — on a high note — but its’ not my high note,” the sheriff continued, gesturing to the law enforcement team behind him in the supervisors’ chambers. “We have a house full of leaders right now that I’m extremely proud of.”

John noted how grateful he has been to have “three fantastic undersheriffs” — Rich Williams, Randy Peshon and now Bryan Golmitz, “who is a lot like me, which is by design … because I think somebody like me standing next to Sheriff-elect Leikauf … will be appropriate.”

Most importantly, John thanked Janine. “She has put up with and sacrificed and dealt with me for the last 30 years in this profession,” he shared. “(It) hasn’t always been easy, at times extremely tough, but she has embraced it.”

Looking back at his wife, he said with a catch in his voice, “God bless you. Thank you.”

“It has been an honor serving El Dorado County, serving the people of El Dorado County through tragedy, through celebrations, through everything,” the sheriff concluded. “It has been absolutely my honor and my privilege and I can’t thank the community enough for their support that made us as successful as we have been.”

Supervisors heaped on more accolades.

District 1 Supervisors John Hidahl said he’s impressed with EDSO’s very effective public safety team. “As a result several knuckleheads — to use your term — were given a strong message that crimes committed in El Dorado County will be fully investigated and the offenders prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Hidahl said. “Thank you for upholding our rule of law.”

“What I have admired and respected most about you is your fierce, unwavering commitment to the security of El Dorado County and the residents who live here and the people who travel and enjoy this beautiful, blessed land,” said District 3 Supervisors Wendy Thomas. “It has allowed all of us to sleep better at night because at the end of the day we knew you had our back.”

“You’ve done a great job for our community, our county,” added District 2 Supervisor George Turnboo. “I just can’t thank you enough.”

Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton thanked the retiring sheriff for giving him his first El Dorado County job as EDSO’s chief financial officer. He then jokingly blamed John for his current CAO title. Ashton plans to retire early next year — the county is currently recruiting for his replacement — and said after he leaves his 9-5, “I’m looking forward to, hopefully, that rum and Coke and cigar we’ve always talked about and we can argue and debate politics.”

“Gin and tonic,” D’Agostini corrected him.

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