Election in San Diego

California Primary Election: There Will Be a New Sheriff in Town, But It's Not Yet Obvious Who

The race is too close to call, but candidates are reacting to the results.

NBC Universal, Inc.

County Undersheriff Kelly Martinez Tuesday evening was leading in the race for sheriff with almost 35% percent of the vote, according to the Registrar of Voters website.

The race is too close to call, but candidates are reacting to the results.

With 136,658 votes counted, Martinez was ahead of six other candidates vying for sheriff in Tuesday's election, following the retirement earlier this year of longtime sheriff's department head Bill Gore.

"It’s been a long year of campaigning and I really feel great," Martinez said. "I think it’s time for San Diegans to have a sheriff that’s really focused on transparency and public safety and all the things I’ve been working for.”

John Hemmerling was in second place, with 19.9% or 68,864 votes, followed by Dave Myers, with 18.38% (or 63,604 votes).

“I’m feeling good," John Hemmerling said. "I was very optimistic coming into the night, and I think that the voters had a chance to take a look at the candidates. And what’s really important in the race for sheriff is credentials and leadership and brining law and order and making public safety number one priority.”

In a statement, Dave Myers said, “It’s too early to know the outcome, but I’m grateful for the support of thousands of San Diegans who want to improve the quality and effectiveness of law enforcement in our county, stop jail deaths and ensure equal treatment for all San Diego residents.”

John "Gundo" Gunderson earned 7.43% (or 25,709 votes); Juan Carlos "Charlie" Mercado garnered 7.26% (or 25,123 votes); Jonathan Peck was at 5.21% (18,031 votes); and Charles "Chuck" Battle stood at 2.32% (8,034 votes).

The election — which will send the top two vote-getters to a November runoff — comes as the sheriff's department battles with staffing issues and continued scrutiny over inmate deaths at its jail facilities.

A state Auditor's Office report indicated the death rate at San Diego County jails was far higher than other large California counties and that the situation "raises concerns about underlying systemic issues with the Sheriff's Department's policies and practices."

Since Gore's retirement in February, Assistant Sheriff Anthony Ray has served in an interim role, but he is not running in Tuesday's primary election.

Martinez is looking to be the department's first female sheriff, following her appointment last year as the department's first female second-in- command.

Martinez, who has served within the sheriff's department since 1985, has Gore's endorsement, as well as the backing of County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, among others.

She has touted recent work in the county to implement non-law enforcement staffed teams to respond to people experiencing mental health crises. Martinez also says she will invest in hiring additional medical staff and mental health professionals for the county's jails, and will continue what she says is a culture of transparency regarding in-custody deaths and body-worn camera footage releases.

Myers, a retired sheriff's commander, says he is running to rebuild community trust in the department. Among his stated priorities are a restorative justice process aimed at preventing individuals from entering a life of crime, addressing misconduct among the department's deputies, and focusing on mental health, transparency and re-evaluating jail policies in order to prevent more deaths among inmates.

Myers has the endorsements of several local Democratic organizations, Congress members Mike Levin and Sara Jacobs, Assembly member Akilah Weber, and five members of the San Diego City Council.

Hemmerling was most recently a prosecutor at the San Diego City Attorney's Office, and also previously served as a San Diego police officer and U.S. Marine.

Though Hemmerling told several media outlets that his retirement last month from the City Attorney's Office was long in the works and intended to allow him to focus on his campaign, he recently came under fire for comments he made at a candidate forum in Ramona, which many viewed as anti-transgender. Hemmerling insisted his comments were directed at a county ordinance, and were not meant to criticize anyone based on their sex or gender identity.

Hemmerling says that if elected, he will focus on behavioral health services for those incarcerated in county jails and diversion opportunities to keep others out of custody. He says he will also focus on transparency within the department in order to boost public trust.

Hemmerling is endorsed by the state and county's Republican Party, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and retired San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman.

Battle is a retired sheriff's sergeant who also works as a private investigator. Battle says his extensive law enforcement experience affords him a unique view into what affects employee morale and retention, and that equitable treatment of all sheriff's candidates will help the department acquire and hold onto additional deputies. Regarding jail deaths, Battle questions the comparisons drawn between San Diego County and other California counties, but says he would call for a re-evaluation of each facility by jail staff.

Mercado, a combat infantry veteran, says his agenda includes the construction and operation of a modern mental health facility, improving diversity within the department's ranks, and an open door policy as sheriff.

Peck is a California Highway Patrol officer who has worked in law enforcement in both San Diego and Los Angeles counties. Peck refers to himself as a constitutional candidate and has criticized restrictions implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says that if elected, he will "swear obedience and fidelity to the United States Constitution and the Constitution of this state" and not "a governor, or a mayor, or a Board of Supervisors or an unelected health department bureaucrat or any donors to my campaign."

Gunderson has had a long career in law enforcement, including roles within the San Diego Police Department and San Diego County District Attorney's Office. Among his listed priorities are establishing transient tent housing for the homeless and partnering with the Citizens' Law Enforcement Review Board to ensure the department operates with transparency and community input.

Click here to see preliminary results for San Diego County, state and Congressional races.

Contact Us