Local Elections

Yolo sheriff 'not campaigning' but now says he'd serve if re-elected. It's a dodge, rival says

Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto in his office in 2009.
Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto in his office in 2009. Sacramento Bee

Yolo County Sheriff-Coroner Ed Prieto says he would serve another term as the county’s top cop if he is voted into the position, stepping back from a March 12 announcement that he would not seek re-election.

Prieto insists he has stopped campaigning since making the announcement, but his name will still appear on the June 5 ballot after he missed the March 9 deadline to remove it, said Jesse Salinas, the Yolo County clerk-recorder who also runs the Yolo Elections Office.

“The bottom line is I’m not campaigning. I’m not going out asking for money,” Prieto told the Sacramento Bee on Monday. “I’d like to be the sheriff, but it’s not going to be the end of the world for me.”

Yolo County Undersheriff Tom Lopez, the only candidate publicly vying for Prieto’s seat, says his boss’s actions spare him from the public scrutiny that come with running a campaign. A third sheriff hopeful, John L. Jackson, a correctional education administrator, said he did not qualify to run for the position because of outdated law enforcement training.

Prieto doesn’t have to attend candidate forums or answer questions about how he’s run the department, though his name will still appear on the ballot, Lopez said. He also pointed to a $6,000 donation sent to Prieto’s campaign from the local United Food and Commercial Workers union last month, as well as reports of a handful of signs bearing Prieto’s name appearing on local lawns.

“At any time, Ed Prieto can jump back in the race,” Lopez said. “I really think he’s counting on the voters not being informed on the issues.”

Prieto, who is serving his fifth term as the Yolo sheriff-coroner, said the donation, which he claims was actually $5,000, was unsolicited and came from a union that he’s kept in touch with since he first sought the sheriff’s seat 20 years ago.

“They said, ‘We want you to continue protecting the community,’” Prieto said.

The lawn signs were likely sent out before he announced he would not be campaigning, he added. He did not know who put them up.

“You ask me a question, I give you an answer, straight up,” Prieto said in response to Lopez’s comments.

Lopez, 56, has been Prieto’s right-hand man for the past 11 years, working his way up the department’s ranks since he started as a reserve deputy with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office at age 18. He's a fifth-generation Yolo County resident who grew up on a ranch south of Esparto, where he said he formed bonds with deputies who worked and lived in the area.

“We’d exchanged waves, and from that it turned to chatting on a (citizens band) radio,” Lopez said. “And it went to me doing my first ride-along at 14.”

Lopez is campaigning on a promise to improve the department’s morale, saying employees fear retaliation and favoritism within the department. He’s garnered endorsements from the local deputy sheriffs association, as well as the Woodland Police Officers’ Association and the Yolo County Correctional Officers Association.

Lopez's comments mirror findings published in a 2014 grand jury report that said Prieto ran his office like the “Wild, Wild West,” claiming a years-long record of intimidation, harassment and nepotism.

The department has faced scrutiny under Prieto’s leadership in other instances, including after a Yolo deputy filed a lawsuit against the county claiming Prieto kissed her on the lips and gave her at least 100 unwanted hugs. The employee settled the lawsuit for a $98,000 payment earlier this year.

“With my position as being the undersheriff, my role has been being a ‘fixer,’” Lopez said of those instances. “But I can’t fix everything in my position.”

Prieto asked why Lopez didn’t speak up about his issues with the department during his time as the undersheriff. No complaints about morale issues were brought up during meetings with the Yolo County Deputy Sheriffs' Association, he said.

“If he had all these problems, he should have brought it up to me,” Prieto said. “There wasn’t any morale issue until (Lopez) decided to run for sheriff.”

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