Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones led three challengers in Tuesday's primary and appeared poised to win reelection, capturing nearly 54 percent of the vote.
With all precincts reporting and more than 114,000 votes counted, Jones held the majority he needed to secure the sheriff's seat for another term. He maintained a significant margin over his rivals as updates from the Sacramento County elections office trickled in through the night.
“We're cautiously optimistic but want to wait to see what the next update will be," Tab Berg, the political consultant running Jones' race, said earlier in the evening. Jones was not available for comment Tuesday, but Berg said he thanked supporters at a watching party.
Jones announced his third run for sheriff in January after his handpicked successor, Lt. Kris Palmer, dropped out of the race. Months prior, Jones announced he would not seek a third term.
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But he said he could not leave the department to an “uncertain future” after learning Palmer would no longer run.
Jones, a Republican, held a significant lead over three challengers, all of whom have spent some time in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
Candidate Donna Cox, a retired sergeant from Elk Grove, was in second place in the race as of early Wednesday morning, with about 21 percent of the vote. Cox retired from the Sheriff’s Department in 2016 after more than two decades in law enforcement, according to her election website.
She was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2005 and assigned to several divisions within the department, at one point leading the canine unit.
Milo Fitch was in third place. He left the Sheriff's Department to head workforce development for the California Prison Industry Authority after spending more than three decades climbing the agency’s ranks, retiring as a chief deputy in 2014. He received endorsements from Democratic groups, as well as from Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna.
With all precincts reporting, Fitch had 20 percent of the vote. When he was informed of early results at a watch party Tuesday night, he said “wow” several times and seemed shocked. “I’m surprised by these numbers,” he said. “They better improve.”
Still, Fitch noted that conservative voters typically vote earlier, and said he’s prepared for a November runoff if it comes to it.
Bret Daniels, a former sheriff’s deputy and current Citrus Heights City Council member, netted 5 percent of the initial votes counted.
All three challengers hoped to unseat Jones, who was first elected into the position in 2010, when he narrowly defeated now-Assemblyman Jim Cooper. He ran unopposed four years later.
If he wins this year’s race, Jones will be one of the county’s longest-serving sheriffs in recent history.
In his third run, Jones has touted increases in public safety under his leadership.
He also touted his vast expansion in the number of concealed-carry weapon permits issued to county residents. Jones engaged in a public quarrel with State Auditor Elaine Howle over an audit of his permitting system late last year.
Howle said Jones broke state law when he pre-emptively shared information about the findings, while Jones maintained the law did not apply to him.
Jones was involved in another public feud with the founder of the Sacramento Black Lives Matter chapter last year after penning a letter in which he questioned her leadership and credibility.
He was responding to demands by the group in connection with two officer-involved shootings and a third incident in which the group’s members said deputies broke a woman’s eye socket.
During Jones' tenure as sheriff, the department has also faced several lawsuits.
One resulted in a five-figure settlement with Nandi Cain Jr., the man punched in the face by a Sacramento police officer in April 2017. Cain alleged he was stripped and verbally abused by deputies in the jail after his arrest.
Four female deputies were awarded $3.57 million in 2016 after claiming they faced retaliation from their superiors for speaking out against discrimination and preferential treatment within the department.
Fitch also has seen controversy. His retirement came the same year co-workers filed an ethics complaint against him, alleging that he steered a work contract to a woman he later married, Jones said last month.
The allegations were detailed in internal documents obtained by The Sacramento Bee, but were never formally investigated because Fitch left the department. Fitch denied any wrongdoing, saying he began a relationship with the woman a full year after the contract was approved.
The Bee's Kellen Browning contributed to this report.