Republican Undersheriff Donald Barnes will succeed retiring Sheriff Sandra Hutchens as Orange County’s top cop, taking over a department that has grappled with allegations of misconduct, scandals and state and federal investigations for much of the last four years.
Barnes received 57 percent of votes to 43 percent for his opponent, Los Angeles District Attorney investigator and Democrat Duke Nguyen, according to an updated vote count at 5 p.m. Wednesday evening. There are still an estimated 418,600 ballots left to count countywide, according to the Registrar of Voters website.
Barnes did not return a request for comment. He thanked voters in a statement posted to his campaign’s Facebook page late Wednesday afternoon.
“Orange County is one of the safest places in America, but we are not immune from threat. As Sheriff, I look forward to leading initiatives aimed at reducing the prevalence of drugs in our neighborhoods, enhancing school safety, mitigating the impacts of homelessness, and advocating for the restoration of accountability to our criminal justice system,” Barnes wrote.
“Each decision and action I make will be rooted in the ethics, integrity and values that are reflective of our Orange County community. I look forward to getting to work,” he added.
Nguyen conceded the race Wednesday afternoon in a statement where he called on Barnes to “take responsibility for the problems within the Department and move forward.”
“The need for new found integrity in the department is paramount. I truly hope that Don will move beyond the tribal politics he ran on,” Nguyen added.
Barnes promised in his statement to “be a Sheriff who engages with all members of the public.”
Hutchens congratulated Barnes on his win Wednesday afternoon.
“Two years ago I selected Don Barnes to serve as undersheriff because of his exceptional integrity, vision and experience,” Hutchens said in a statement. “Now the people of Orange County have recognized those same qualities in Don Barnes and, in their wisdom, have selected him to be their Sheriff.”
Barnes spent much of the campaign defending the policies of the department he has worked at for 29 years. Before he became Undersheriff in 2016, Barnes was an Assistant Sheriff, Division Commander, and Hutchens’ executive aide. He was heavily supported by law enforcement groups, police chiefs and elected officials countywide.
Nguyen, a former Santa Ana police Officer, pitched himself as a reformer who would tackle systemic racism, poor conditions in the jails, and corruption within the department. Nguyen came to the United States as a refugee from Vietnam in 1981.
He was supported in part by Democrats and advocacy groups for Asian American and Latino communities who have opposed the Sheriff’s department’s previous partnerships with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Most recently, the department began posting inmate release dates online to circumvent California’s sanctuary state law, a decision that galvanized some of Nguyen’s supporters.
“We went into this to bring more accountability and trust to the Sheriff’s Department. I think we definitely met the goal of educating as many people as possible about the issues in the department,” said Nguyen in his statement. “They spent over 1.2 million dollars to keep that change out of the department.”
His concession statement included some criticism of Barnes.
“Barnes cannot continue to say that he will “solve homelessness in 6 months” it is just not that kind of issue,” Nguyen wrote. “The changes that need to be made cannot happen over night, or by criminalizing everyone who does not have the power to stand up for themselves.”
“However, I think that Don will do his best to serve the people of Orange County,” Nguyen said.
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