Patterson chief to challenge Christianson for Stanislaus sheriff's post

06/19/2013 4:36 PM

09/19/2013 1:40 PM

Sheriff's lieutenant and Patterson Police Chief Tori Hughes has stepped into the race to unseat the man she testified against in a civil trial.

The 14-year Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department veteran announced her candidacy for sheriff Wednesday. She will take on her boss, Sheriff Adam Christianson, who has held the position since 2006 and is running for re-election in 2014.

Last July, Hughes testified during a civil trial that she'd heard Christianson talk about a "limp, lame and lazy" list of injured workers as part of a lawsuit brought by one of the deputies. Christianson later publicly apologized for using the term. An independent investigation concluded earlier this month that the phrase was widely used within the Sheriff's Department, but did not originate there.

"I think we need new leadership and I think we need to focus on the right priorities," Hughes told The Bee. "We need to focus on retaining the best and brightest that serve our community. And to work smart with the community to fight crime."

Hughes joined the county as a sheriff's deputy in 1999. When she became a detective five years later, she focused on elder abuse and crimes against children. In 2005, she was promoted to sergeant, and in 2007 to lieutenant.

For the past four years, Hughes, 36, has served as chief of police for the city of Patterson, which contracts its municipal law enforcement with the sheriff's office. As chief, she oversees a staff of more than 20 and a budget of about $3.5 million.

Born in Modesto, Hughes moved with her family to Arizona when she was young. She returned to California for college, earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from California State University, Long Beach. She then earned a master's in business administration from National University in Stockton.

If elected, Hughes said, she would seek innovative ways to target and fight crime through technology, and strengthen the community bond.

Hughes will not be Christianson's only competition come 2014. In September, Stanislaus County deputy Tom Letras threw his hat into the ring.

Letras was a former supporter of Christianson's but now claims that he bullies employees and created public relations and legal problems for the department. The Turlock native is a 15-year veteran of the force and a former department spokesman.

Hughes said she hopes to put an end to the department's public and internal relations problems. She said morale in the department is low and she wants to end the discord that she thinks is weakening the department. She said she has a different leadership style than Christianson, and she believes he hasn't made the necessary changes to strengthen the department in his eight years in office.

"We can't change what we don't acknowledge. I will see to it that officer morale is never undermined," she said in her announcement statement. "Employees and their rights will be honored, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because we cannot maximize our ability to fight crime when we are distracted by policy violations and lawsuits."

Christianson told The Bee in an email Wednesday that "Deputy Tom Letras and Chief Tori Hughes are both great employees and excellent representatives of the Sheriff's Office! I promoted Tori and supported her assignment as Chief of Patterson Police Services. I'm very proud of both of them!"

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