Hughes withdraws from Stanislaus County sheriff’s race, citing health reasons

gstapley@modbee.comJanuary 8, 2014 

Tori Hughes

UNKNOWN — unknown

Citing unspecified “health issues,” Tori Hughes on Wednesday announced her withdrawal from a three-way race for Stanislaus County sheriff.

“A full recovery is expected,” but the undisclosed problem has “affected her ability to currently campaign,” says a prepared statement.

Hughes, 37, was not available for comment, said Kathy Salvatore, who had been helping with the campaign. Hughes has been on medical leave since Dec. 6 and is not expected to return until the end of the month.

Hughes’ departure leaves Deputy Tom Letras challenging Sheriff Adam Christianson, who was elected in 2006 and is seeking a third four-year term on the June 3 ballot. Hughes is focused on her recovery and has not decided whether she will endorse one of the others, Salvatore said.

If no one else enters the race by the March 7 deadline, Hughes’ exit removes the possibility of a November runoff. Races with three people extend to the fall only if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in June.

A Wednesday debate among the three candidates was postponed as news spread of Hughes’ exit from the race.

Hughes, a 15-year department veteran, is a sheriff’s lieutenant serving as police chief in Patterson, a city that contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for police services.

Only two weeks ago, Hughes had posted a Christmas message on her Facebook campaign website saying, “May this next year bring the changes we need for our county and for ourselves. It’s time to get to work and elect a new sheriff.”

Wednesday’s withdrawal notice quotes Hughes as saying, “My current position as police chief will be my priority. When I return to work after medical leave, I will devote my efforts to my job and working within that framework to bring about as much change as possible.

“My campaign was a platform to openly discuss and debate topics important to the community,” she added. “I will continue such efforts and advocacy for the citizens of Stanislaus County.”

In an email Wednesday, Christianson said, “Tori is a valuable member of our team and I’m very proud of her. I was privileged to promote Tori to the rank of lieutenant because she is a team player and is willing to stand up for what she believes in.”

Hughes and Letras have cited legal, internal and public relations issues facing the department and said their leadership styles would improve morale.

Letras said Wednesday, “First and foremost, my thoughts go out to Tori while she deals with health issues.”

He continued, “From the beginning, Tori and I both were candidates for change. We were both trying to be a voice for the citizens of Stanislaus County. I applaud her for her willingness to speak out about the problems going on within the department.”

A September review of court documents by The Bee found that lawsuits against the department during Christianson’s tenure had cost taxpayers $9.4 million. Most of that – $5 million – was spent defending the department from several lawsuits brought by its own workers.

Hughes had been called to testify against her boss in a 2012 trial for one of the lawsuits. That case revealed the department’s “limp, lame and lazy” list of injured workers, prompting a public apology from the sheriff and an investigation by county leaders.

In The Bee’s September report, Hughes had said she was troubled that half of the plaintiffs in concluded lawsuits had successfully sued the department, yet she had seen few lessons from those cases passed on to officers. “If these things are going on, why aren’t we discussing them to find ways to prevent them in the future?” she asked.

Letras said Wednesday, “I still stand firm in my belief that the citizens of Stanislaus County are not getting the best services they can get. A lot of repair to our image is needed.”

Judging financial support for the three candidates from public records is difficult. Christianson had amassed far more by June 30 – $29,380, compared with $1,000 for Letras and $534 for Hughes. But Hughes had announced her bid shortly before that reporting deadline, the next is three weeks away and no sheriff’s candidate has turned forms in early, the county registrar’s office said Wednesday. Forms released Jan. 31 will show what they had raised through the end of the year.

Supporters held four fundraisers for Hughes in the fall, according to her Facebook page.

Wednesday’s canceled forum, sponsored by the Stanislaus Sworn Deputies Association, was not intended as a public event but would serve to help union members formulate an endorsement. Union leaders said they’re working with the remaining candidates’ camps to reschedule the event.

Association President Frank Soria said Hughes is “well respected by deputies, staff and the community” and called her withdrawal unfortunate, “but completely understandable considering the difficult situation.”

Hughes joined the department as a deputy sheriff in 1999. She became a detective five years later and was promoted to sergeant in 2005 and to lieutenant in 2007.

She became chief in Patterson in 2010 and oversees a staff of more than 20 and a budget of $3.6 million, although city leaders have debated switching to another provider and hired a consultant to study hooking up with police departments in Modesto, Turlock or Newman. Talks continue and a public workshop is scheduled for Jan. 28.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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