Hutchens, who didn’t authorize the snooping, quickly apologized to the supervisors, but the scandal wouldn’t go away. Supervisors tell me that she gave varying, inconsistent answers about how much snooping had occurred. Worse, they argue, when they demanded to check the DVD recordings for themselves, the sheriff initially refused, declaring the OCSD exclusive owners of the footage made from the board’s own cameras. Later, she shared edited versions. After an evolution of reasons for not wanting the supervisors or the public to see all of the footage, she finally claimed that release would jeopardize the identities of undercover deputies she’d sent into the public meeting. A majority of supervisors say hogwash.

“The sheriff has shown a lack of respect for the institution [the board],” according to one powerful Hall of Administration source who asked to not be named. “She’s been inconsistent, full of excuses and, frankly, at times, offensive.”

Hutchens doesn’t recognize the target of that criticism. From her perspective, she’s done nothing wrong and informs me that she encourages citizens to closely monitor her and other government officials.

John Gilhooley
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens plays in a park with her dog, Tucker
John Gilhooley
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens plays in a park with her dog, Tucker

“I’m distrustful about government interference, too, and that extends to law enforcement,” says Hutchens, who—unlike Carona—drives herself and doesn’t travel with a large security detail. “We have to be careful with the power we have been given.”

She attributes her stance, in part, to a 1980s trip to East Germany. “It was when the [Berlin] wall was still up,” the sheriff says. “I was on a train in the middle of the night, and the police boarded and demanded to see everyone’s papers. That was a good lesson to me.”

Not all of the supervisors are ready to pan the sheriff. Pat Bates, one of the three supervisors who appointed Hutchens, disagrees with the CCW policy and wasn’t elated about Supe Snoop, but she says she is “taking a wait-and-see approach” about the sheriff’s overall performance because “it’s too early to tell.”

“We’re waiting to see how she will handle the real big problems at the sheriff’s department—the jails and her budget issues,” Bates says.

If Hutchens has a cheerleader on the panel, it’s Moorlach. “Overall, I’d give her an A-minus or a B-plus,” he says. “She stepped into a place where her predecessor liked to be sheriff but didn’t like to do sheriff. She’s been aggressively tackling a number of problems, and as a whole, I’m getting really good feedback about her from my constituents. In fact, I think she’s going to be tough to beat in an election.”

But pollster Adam Probolsky, a CCW recipient from Carona, says Hutchens is doomed. “She’s got an LA-centric mentality, is too aggressive and has a total lack of political acumen,” he says. “She loses no matter who runs against her.”

 *     *     *

After more than 70 minutes alone with Hutchens during the interview in her executive office, I was ready to ask the question I had saved for last: As a first-time candidate, could she handle a rough campaign?

Hutchens says, “I find here in the county . . . well, we Republicans have a tendency to eat our own.”

I scribble her words on a notepad, and then remain silent, hoping she’ll continue unprompted.

“What I hope to see in the upcoming election is a discussion about policy and the philosophy of policing—not the personal attacks,” she continues.

Is she concerned that Schroeder, no Hutchens fan and a brass-knuckles GOP campaign strategist, has twice dined in recent months with Walters, her biggest potential challenger?

“I don’t cringe because, in the end, I’ll respect what the voters decide,” says Hutchens, who last week revoked the CCW permit Carona had given Schroeder because, in her view, he didn’t have “good cause” to have one. “If they like what the department’s doing, they’ll elect me.”

She pauses for a moment, and there’s a knock at her door. Four assistants are waiting to usher her to a public event in Huntington Beach. OC’s 12th sheriff acknowledges them, they close the door, and she turns upbeat, showing me her feisty independent spirit one final time.

“I’m not going to change my positions to get elected,” says Hutchens. “I’m going to do the right thing. I am seeking support from Democrats, Republicans and independents. I’m the sheriff first and a politician second, and I think I’m going to get elected.”

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