By Elijah McKee
Photos, left to right: Dave Myers, Kelly Martinez, John Hemmerling, Charles Battle, Juan Carlos Mercado, Gundo Gunderson, Jonathan Peck
May 26, 2022 (San Diego's East County) — A seat of power will soon be filled in San Diego County that has not seen turnover since 2009: the Sheriff.
This position — consistently held by Bill Gore over the past decade until his retirement in February — is pivotal in determining the direction of law enforcement across several contracted cities and unincorporated areas, as well as overseeing county jails and courthouses. The San Diego County Sheriff’s department currently operates on a budget of over $1 billion.
The primary election on June 7 will determine the top two vote-getters out of a candidate pool that has grown to include seven individuals. The top two will proceed to the November election.
Below are links to the candidates’ websites and a summary of their key platform points, followed by highlights from a forum held by the League of Women Voters in which four candidates participated.
- Kelly Martinez, the current undersheriff. She is endorsed by former Sheriff BIll Gore. Her platform includes: safer jails, staff retention, common sense gun reform
- John Hemmerling, the chief criminal prosecutor for the San Diego city attorney’s office. He has received the Republican Party’s endorsement. His platform includes: toughness on crime, and Second Amendment protections
- Dave Myers, a retired sheriff’s commander, has the support of the state and county Democratic Party. His platform includes: leadership review, rebuilding community trust, and reducing jail deaths.
- Juan Carlos Mercado, a U.S. Army veteran and deputy sheriff. His platform includes: immigration reform, diverse leadership, mental health facilities
- Charles Battle, a former Sheriff’s Sergeant. His platform includes: positive law enforcement morale, constitutional rights protections
- Gundo Gunderson, a current police captain. His platform includes: optional vaccines, concealed carry protections
- Jonathan Peck, a member of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. His platform includes: Biblical Voter’s Families First Pledge
On April 13, Donna Bartlett-May with the San Diego Chapter of the League of Women Voters held a forum open to all candidates, during which they answered questions submitted by viewers. Myers, Martinez, Gunderson, and Battle participated, although Hemmerling sent in a written platform statement but did not respond to questions.
A selection of key issues and the participating candidates’ respective approaches to them, as stated during the forum, are below. Responses to questions were limited to one minute each. The full video is available on Youtube through the San Diego League of Women Voters.
High jail deaths:
- Myers expressed his desire to halt the neglect in county jails through data driven practices that reevaluate who is in custody and why, and what the Sheriff’s care of them should look like.
- Martinez worked with the auditors who recently reviewed the county. There are already changes being made, she said, including renovations and a wireless communications system. However, she cited a need for more healthcare workers and a county hospital.
- Gunderson saw it as a cultural problem amongst employees, and he would look to make sure they are aptly resourced, then hold them accountable.
- Battle would put together a jail investigation team, similar to one he participated in back in 1992.
ICE and DHS:
- Myers doubted that turning individuals over to ICE with no federal warrant creates safer communities, claiming that many subsequently end up reporting less crime, agreeing to be witnesses less, and trusting law enforcement less. For any partnership with DHS, he underscored the importance of being responsibly transparent with the public about what information is being shared.
- Martinez asserted that the department just follows the law when it comes to their relationship with ICE. She also felt it appropriate to partner with DHS for non-immigration related border issues.
- Gunderson supported ending transfers to ICE, since California voted for that via the Truth Act, but he was clear that he would not stop notifying them about who the Sheriff has and does not have in custody. He also supported full information exchange with DHS, specifically around human trafficking issues.
- Battle saw cooperating with ICE as a necessity and essential. He would work with DHS only on a case by case basis.
- Myers was against criminalizing unsheltered people, and said he would look to local governments to help create solutions.
- Martinez, who created the Homeless Assistance Resource Team in 2018, classified the role of the Sheriff’s department as a supporting one to governments and NGOs.
- Gunderson envisioned a new rural shelter location for those who do not want to choose other services.
- Battle did not see how the Sheriff’s department could change people’s attitudes around their homelessness, but did acknowledge the prevalence of the issue.
- Myers would reinforce pay and benefits, and recruit new people who are reflective of the community.
- Martinez emphasized maintaining a good brand and respect for the department as key to retaining and recruiting staff.
- Gunderson said law enforcement has been disincentivized and is in need of more support to make it an attractive career path.
- Battle would work to boost morale in the department.