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In the murky campaign for Yolo sheriff, Tom Lopez is the clear choice

Yolo County deputy sherrifs gather at slain deputy Danny Oliver's memorial service in 2014.
Yolo County deputy sherrifs gather at slain deputy Danny Oliver's memorial service in 2014. Aseng@sacbee.com

Until this month, the race for Yolo County sheriff-coroner wasn’t much of a race.

Tom Lopez, the department’s longtime undersheriff, had filed paperwork to run in the June 5 primary. And within days, his boss, the current Sheriff-Coroner Ed Prieto, announced that he would step aside, seemingly giving Lopez his blessing.

"With the emerging candidates," he said in March, "I am confident that the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department is well-positioned with a strong executive team to continue to grow and excel.”

But over the past few weeks, campaign signs have been popping up in yards and now Prieto says Lopez betrayed him and so he’s running again. Well, “running, but not campaigning,” which we imagine must be like smoking, but not inhaling.

If re-elected — a real possibility, given that his name is still on the ballot because he didn’t remove it — Prieto told The Bee’s Nashelly Chavez that he’ll serve four more years for his sixth term.

Voters should elect Lopez instead. He's not only running an intellectually honest campaign, he also has ideas to make the sheriff’s department better. The 56-year-old lawman worked his way up the ranks and, based on his endorsements, has the support of most of the 270 employees that he oversees.

His ideas include starting a Homeless Outreach Team, expanding Yolo County's restorative justice program, establishing a School Resource Officer program and rebooting the County Gang Task Force. He also plans to train all deputies to use defibrillators and the overdose reversal drug Narcan, and create a citizens academy to facilitate ridealongs to increase transparency.

Prieto, meanwhile, is running such a murky re-election bid that he has refused to even participate in a candidate forum, ostensibly because it would cause drama within the department and because he has been sheriff for 20 years and “voters know where I stand.”

He says he's a "liberal" sheriff who has increased diversity and the use of technology, including dash cameras. The broader truth is darker.

Prieto doesn't want to answer any questions about a string of sexual harassment lawsuits, calling it “character assassination.” He also doesn't want to talk about a 2014 grand jury report that found Prieto ran the department like the “Wild, Wild West," with evidence of low morale. He calls the findings “opinions, not facts."

Lopez, who has said he will retire if he doesn’t win in June, doesn’t have that kind of baggage. It's time for a fresh start.

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