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What a Week: New DA and new sheriff

New Alameda County Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez takes the oath of office on Jan. 3. (Photo courtesy ACSO)

Law enforcement leadership looks a lot different at the county level this month.

New Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price and Alameda County Sheriff-Coroner Yesenia Sanchez were formally sworn into office last week after their monumental elections to shake up long-held establishments in the respective public offices.

New Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price. (Photo courtesy of DA's office)

Both women represent big change, but they aren't the same type of change -- on paper, anyway.

Sanchez was an internal candidate, a jail commander who had worked more than 20 years with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. Price was a total outsider, a progressive civil rights attorney based in Oakland who had plenty of time as defense counsel but had never prosecuted a case before.

There's so much intrigue about what will happen next for both departments, but we can do little except speculate until we see their separate administrations in action.

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I actually have some experience reporting on what happens when voters overhaul county sheriff's and DA's offices in the same election cycle.

Jeremy Walsh, editorial director. (Photo by Anmarie Fielding-Weeks)

Just months after graduating journalism school, I was thrown into the 2010 general election coverage in a brand-new community about to get a different DA after the incumbent was ousted in the primary and the longtime sheriff that would go on to lose to one of his deputies -- and not even a member of his command staff, but just a rank-and-file officer.

There is an element of apples-to-oranges in my example (although I'd argue more like comparing Fuji apples to Granny Smiths) because the impetus for the election upheaval in rural Lake County that year stemmed from a single infamous case that brought the integrity of both offices to their knees.

The story that garnered attention across California began after a woman died from injuries in a boat crash on Clear Lake in 2006 that occurred after a speedboat operated by an off-duty sheriff's senior deputy (and former captain) slammed into the sailboat where she was a passenger. But prosecutors ultimately charged the man standing next to the sailboat's tiller with fatal boating under the influence, rather than pursuing a case against the deputy.

A jury acquitted the defendant at trial in 2009, and voters sent the sheriff and DA out the door one year later. (There are interesting postscripts to both of those new administrations in Lake County, but that's a story for another day.)

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We don't have anything nearly like that going on here in Alameda County, but rather an apparent pervasive desire among the electorate majority for changes at the top. That said, it's a useful comparison for me because I've witnessed first-hand what these transitions can look like on the ground.

And we've already seen the stage being set by Sanchez and Price.

Sanchez defeated her boss, Sheriff Greg Ahern, and a third candidate outright in the June primary election on a platform of positive change from within. She became the first Latina and first female sheriff in county history, and announced her new command staff last Friday, three days after taking the oath of office.

That included a range of promotions such as Colby Staysa and Emmanuel Christy as assistant sheriffs, Nate Schmidt, Christopher Lucia and Timothy Schellenberg as commanders, Daniel McNaughton, Gurvinder Gosal and Anthony DeSousa as captains and Leticia Davis as lieutenant.

One name should be very familiar in the Tri-Valley, as Schmidt served for years as a captain with Dublin Police Services under the city's contract with the county. I interacted with Schmidt a lot as the DPS public information officer.

Along those lines, the sheriff's office now has new PIOs under the Sanchez administration as longtime officials Ray Kelly and J.D. Nelson have been reassigned to make way for Capt. April Luckett-Fahimi and Lt. Tya Modeste as the new spokespeople for the department.

A drop in the bucket for the changes to come under Sanchez's tenure, I'm sure.

Meanwhile Price, who beat longtime deputy DA Terry Wiley (outgoing DA Nancy O'Malley's preferred candidate) in a November runoff election to become the first African American woman to hold the post, unveiled her transition team last Friday as well.

Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Y. Price is sworn-in at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland. The oath of office was given by retired Alameda County Superior Court Judge, the Honorable Brenda Fay Harbin. By her side is DA Price's sister, Tonsa Price-Edwards. (Photo courtesy of DA's office)

Hers is a list filled with folks new to the DA's office, including retired Marin County assistant DA Otis Bruce Jr. and Royl L. Roberts, former general counsel for Peralta Community College District, as chief assistant DAs; former San Francisco head deputy public defender Kwixuan H. Maloof, civil attorney Simona Farrise Best and criminal justice reform lawyer Cynthia Chandler as senior assistant DAs, and one of her top campaign officials, Ryan LaLonde, as director of communications.

"My vision is to serve you as a minister of justice," Price said in her speech after taking the oath Jan. 3. "My job is to protect public safety by advancing justice. Our goals are to reduce crime and criminal activity, engage the entire community in eliminating exploitation and violence against vulnerable members of the community, and lead the conversation about justice in the diverse communities that we represent."

"We will have a DA committed to transparency, equity and accountability to make the system work for all of us," she added.

Of course, many people in certain circles are concerned about the impact of Price's progressive platform on the necessary public safety duty of criminal prosecutions. And they point to the debacle across the Bay, where public defender turned district attorney Chesa Boudin got recalled after 2-1/2 years in office.

I'm not sure Price is as extreme (nor as inexperienced a leader) as Boudin, but her administration will be a jolt to the norm for sure.

All I know is this is a drastic shift that a majority of participating voters in Alameda County demanded when faced with clear-cut choices on a one-on-one ballot -- and that has to count for something.

One sign early for Price and Sanchez alike will be how staffing levels are affected by their arrivals. A significant exodus throughout the ranks would be a huge red flag for both the department and the public.

New Alameda County Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez before the swearing-in ceremony. (Photo courtesy ACSO)

For now, I join many others in taking a wait-and-see approach with these new administrations wondering just how each woman will mold her department and what changes will come next.

They have plenty of time to make their marks, as both Sanchez and Price benefit from a new state law that gives them six years in office under this term instead of the usual four (barring a voter-induced recall or other unexpected development) as part of aligning local sheriff and DA elections with the presidential ballots starting in 2024.

Let the ride begin.

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Jeremy Walsh
 
Jeremy Walsh, a Benicia native and American University alum, joined Embarcadero Media in November 2013. After serving as associate editor for the Pleasanton Weekly and DanvilleSanRamon.com, he was promoted to editor of the East Bay Division in February 2017. Read more >>

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What a Week: New DA and new sheriff

by / Pleasanton Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Jan 12, 2023, 10:15 pm

Law enforcement leadership looks a lot different at the county level this month.

New Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price and Alameda County Sheriff-Coroner Yesenia Sanchez were formally sworn into office last week after their monumental elections to shake up long-held establishments in the respective public offices.

Both women represent big change, but they aren't the same type of change -- on paper, anyway.

Sanchez was an internal candidate, a jail commander who had worked more than 20 years with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. Price was a total outsider, a progressive civil rights attorney based in Oakland who had plenty of time as defense counsel but had never prosecuted a case before.

There's so much intrigue about what will happen next for both departments, but we can do little except speculate until we see their separate administrations in action.

I actually have some experience reporting on what happens when voters overhaul county sheriff's and DA's offices in the same election cycle.

Just months after graduating journalism school, I was thrown into the 2010 general election coverage in a brand-new community about to get a different DA after the incumbent was ousted in the primary and the longtime sheriff that would go on to lose to one of his deputies -- and not even a member of his command staff, but just a rank-and-file officer.

There is an element of apples-to-oranges in my example (although I'd argue more like comparing Fuji apples to Granny Smiths) because the impetus for the election upheaval in rural Lake County that year stemmed from a single infamous case that brought the integrity of both offices to their knees.

The story that garnered attention across California began after a woman died from injuries in a boat crash on Clear Lake in 2006 that occurred after a speedboat operated by an off-duty sheriff's senior deputy (and former captain) slammed into the sailboat where she was a passenger. But prosecutors ultimately charged the man standing next to the sailboat's tiller with fatal boating under the influence, rather than pursuing a case against the deputy.

A jury acquitted the defendant at trial in 2009, and voters sent the sheriff and DA out the door one year later. (There are interesting postscripts to both of those new administrations in Lake County, but that's a story for another day.)

We don't have anything nearly like that going on here in Alameda County, but rather an apparent pervasive desire among the electorate majority for changes at the top. That said, it's a useful comparison for me because I've witnessed first-hand what these transitions can look like on the ground.

And we've already seen the stage being set by Sanchez and Price.

Sanchez defeated her boss, Sheriff Greg Ahern, and a third candidate outright in the June primary election on a platform of positive change from within. She became the first Latina and first female sheriff in county history, and announced her new command staff last Friday, three days after taking the oath of office.

That included a range of promotions such as Colby Staysa and Emmanuel Christy as assistant sheriffs, Nate Schmidt, Christopher Lucia and Timothy Schellenberg as commanders, Daniel McNaughton, Gurvinder Gosal and Anthony DeSousa as captains and Leticia Davis as lieutenant.

One name should be very familiar in the Tri-Valley, as Schmidt served for years as a captain with Dublin Police Services under the city's contract with the county. I interacted with Schmidt a lot as the DPS public information officer.

Along those lines, the sheriff's office now has new PIOs under the Sanchez administration as longtime officials Ray Kelly and J.D. Nelson have been reassigned to make way for Capt. April Luckett-Fahimi and Lt. Tya Modeste as the new spokespeople for the department.

A drop in the bucket for the changes to come under Sanchez's tenure, I'm sure.

Meanwhile Price, who beat longtime deputy DA Terry Wiley (outgoing DA Nancy O'Malley's preferred candidate) in a November runoff election to become the first African American woman to hold the post, unveiled her transition team last Friday as well.

Hers is a list filled with folks new to the DA's office, including retired Marin County assistant DA Otis Bruce Jr. and Royl L. Roberts, former general counsel for Peralta Community College District, as chief assistant DAs; former San Francisco head deputy public defender Kwixuan H. Maloof, civil attorney Simona Farrise Best and criminal justice reform lawyer Cynthia Chandler as senior assistant DAs, and one of her top campaign officials, Ryan LaLonde, as director of communications.

"My vision is to serve you as a minister of justice," Price said in her speech after taking the oath Jan. 3. "My job is to protect public safety by advancing justice. Our goals are to reduce crime and criminal activity, engage the entire community in eliminating exploitation and violence against vulnerable members of the community, and lead the conversation about justice in the diverse communities that we represent."

"We will have a DA committed to transparency, equity and accountability to make the system work for all of us," she added.

Of course, many people in certain circles are concerned about the impact of Price's progressive platform on the necessary public safety duty of criminal prosecutions. And they point to the debacle across the Bay, where public defender turned district attorney Chesa Boudin got recalled after 2-1/2 years in office.

I'm not sure Price is as extreme (nor as inexperienced a leader) as Boudin, but her administration will be a jolt to the norm for sure.

All I know is this is a drastic shift that a majority of participating voters in Alameda County demanded when faced with clear-cut choices on a one-on-one ballot -- and that has to count for something.

One sign early for Price and Sanchez alike will be how staffing levels are affected by their arrivals. A significant exodus throughout the ranks would be a huge red flag for both the department and the public.

For now, I join many others in taking a wait-and-see approach with these new administrations wondering just how each woman will mold her department and what changes will come next.

They have plenty of time to make their marks, as both Sanchez and Price benefit from a new state law that gives them six years in office under this term instead of the usual four (barring a voter-induced recall or other unexpected development) as part of aligning local sheriff and DA elections with the presidential ballots starting in 2024.

Let the ride begin.

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