What a Week: New DA and new sheriff | January 13, 2023 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |

Pleasanton Weekly

Column - January 13, 2023

What a Week: New DA and new sheriff

by Jeremy Walsh

Law enforcement leadership looks a lot different at the county level this month.

New Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price and new Sheriff-Coroner Yesenia Sanchez were formally sworn into office last week after their monumental elections to shake up long-held establishments in the respective public offices.

Both women represent big change, but they aren't the same type of change -- on paper, anyway.

Sanchez was an internal candidate, a jail commander who had worked more than 20 years with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. Price was a total outsider, a progressive civil rights attorney based in Oakland who had plenty of time as defense counsel but had never prosecuted a case before.

There's so much intrigue about what will happen next for both departments, but we can do little except speculate until we see their separate administrations in action.

I actually have some experience reporting on what happens when voters overhaul county sheriff's and DA's offices in the same election cycle.

Just months after graduating journalism school, I was thrown into the 2010 general election coverage in a brand-new community about to get a different DA after the incumbent was ousted in the primary and the longtime sheriff would go on to lose to one of his deputies -- and not even a member of his command staff, but just a rank-and-file officer.

I've witnessed first-hand what these transitions can look like on the ground.

And we've already seen the stage being set by Sanchez and Price.

Sanchez defeated her boss, Sheriff Greg Ahern, and a third candidate outright in the June primary election on a platform of positive change from within. She became the first Latina and first female sheriff in county history, and announced her new command staff last Friday, three days after taking the oath of office.

That included a range of promotions such as Colby Staysa and Emmanuel Christy as assistant sheriffs, Nate Schmidt, Christopher Lucia and Timothy Schellenberg as commanders, Daniel McNaughton, Gurvinder Gosal and Anthony DeSousa as captains and Leticia Davis as lieutenant.

One name should be very familiar in the Tri-Valley, as Schmidt served for years as a captain with Dublin Police Services under the city's contract with the county. I interacted with Schmidt a lot as DPS' public information officer.

A drop in the bucket for the changes to come under Sanchez's tenure, I'm sure.

Meanwhile Price, who beat longtime deputy DA Terry Wiley (outgoing DA Nancy O'Malley's preferred candidate) in a November runoff election to become the first African American woman to hold the post, unveiled her transition team last Friday as well.

Hers is a list filled with folks new to the DA's office, including retired Marin County assistant DA Otis Bruce Jr. and Royl L. Roberts, former general counsel for Peralta Community College District, as chief assistant DAs; former San Francisco head deputy public defender Kwixuan H. Maloof, civil attorney Simona Farrise Best and criminal justice reform lawyer Cynthia Chandler as senior assistant DAs, and one of her top campaign officials, Ryan LaLonde, as director of communications.

"We will have a DA committed to transparency, equity and accountability to make the system work for all of us," Price said in her speech after taking the oath Jan. 3.

Of course, many people in certain circles are concerned about the impact of Price's progressive platform on the necessary public safety duty of criminal prosecutions. And they point to the debacle across the Bay, where public defender turned district attorney Chesa Boudin got recalled after 2-1/2 years in office.

I'm not sure Price is as extreme (nor as inexperienced a leader) as Boudin, but her administration will be a jolt to the norm.

All I know is this is a drastic shift that a majority of participating voters in Alameda County demanded when faced with clear-cut choices on a one-on-one ballot -- and that has to count for something.

One sign early for Price and Sanchez alike will be how staffing levels are affected by their arrivals. A significant exodus throughout the ranks would be a huge red flag for both the department and the public.

For now, I join many others in taking a wait-and-see approach with these new administrations wondering just how each woman will mold her department and what changes will come next.

They have plenty of time to make their marks, as both Sanchez and Price benefit from a new state law that gives them six years in office under this term instead of the usual four (barring a voter-induced recall or other unexpected development) as part of aligning local sheriff and DA elections with the presidential ballots starting in 2024.

Let the ride begin.

Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh is the editorial director for the Embarcadero Media East Bay Division. His "What a Week" column publishes on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.


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