Taking over a corrupted sheriff’s department tarnished with sex scandals and prisoner abuse, becoming Orange County’s first woman sheriff and bringing it back from the brink in a style that Donald Trump acknowledged as “legendary” is the legacy that former Sheriff Sandra Hutchens imprints on OC history.
She died Jan. 4, at the age of 66 after a long battle with breast cancer.
Sheriff Hutchens came into office in 2008, appointed by OC Supervisors after her predecessor, Sheriff Mark Carona was indicted on charges of corruption. Hutchens was formally elected in 2010, reelected in 2014 and retired in 2017.
“Her most notable management changes was firing former Assistant Sheriff Jack Anderson along with a series of top captains when she took over, then bringing in a whole new command staff that featured many veterans from [Los Angeles] law enforcement circles,” Norberto Santana Jr. of the Voice of OC said. “Hutchens also launched a division, known as SAFE, that centered on training and procedure and also defended the agency’s budget during lean times.”
Furthermore, she revoked concealed weapon permits and replica badges that Carona had given to contributors along with releasing some jail inmates, knowing her job was to enforce laws whether or not she agreed with them.
One of Hutchens’s biggest controversies was when she strengthened limitations on concealed weapon permits, facing backlash from many constituents and the Republican Supervisors who had appointed her.
Perhaps the biggest controversy was Hutchens’s opposition to California Senate Bill 54. Also known as SB54, it prevents state and local agencies from using their resources to help federal immigration agencies, such as the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This led the American Civil Liberties Union to attempt to sue Hutchens and demand that she resign.
Regardless of her controversies, Hutchens still remains a notable and inspirational figure.
“For me personally, she was a mentor and a friend,” Hutchens’s successor, OC Sheriff Don Barnes, said. “I will continue to be inspired by her commitment to always do the right thing, regardless of the consequences, and serve the department and community’s interests first without need for self-recognition.”
When hearing news of her death, many of Hutchen’s colleagues put their personal differences aside and were saddened, recognizing her grit and legacy as a trailblazer as the first woman sheriff in OC history. This included labor leaders Tom Dominguez and Nick Beradino, who clashed heads with Hutchens on multiple occasions throughout their careers.
Representative Michelle Steel, State Senator Janet Nguyen, Supervisor Lisa Barlett and many other elected officials also gave their condolences over Hutchens’s death.
Hutchens did not wish for a memorial service, but her family asked for all donations in her name be made to Drug Use is Life Abuse or the Susan G. Komen Foundation, two charities she staunchly supported.