After a campaign that became heated over controversies at the Sedgwick County Jail, Jeff Easter defeated incumbent Bob Hinshaw by a 3-to-1 ratio in the Republican primary for Sedgwick County sheriff.
“It appears I’m going to be sheriff,” Easter said Tuesday night to applause from about 100 supporters at the Wichita Executive Centre in downtown Wichita.
The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Jefrey Weinman, a former Wichita police officer, in the November general election.
Shortly before 11 p.m., before the final tally was available, Hinshaw said he was not ready to concede the race.
Hinshaw said his political advisers had told him that they expected a close race, with one to four percentage points separating the two candidates.
“Based right now, we still don’t know what the actual counts are,” Hinshaw said. “I would tend to agree that Jeff Easter has a commanding lead. ... Right now it doesn’t seem we will know for sure until sometime tomorrow.” Hinshaw said he would have no more comments Tuesday night.
Much of the campaign focused on controversies over treatment of jail inmates. In late June, a sheriff’s jail deputy resigned after being charged with 11 sex crimes following allegations that he handcuffed and raped one inmate and assaulted five others. An ongoing lawsuit against the sheriff and the county alleges a pattern of abuse of mentally ill inmates.
Hinshaw, seeking a second term in his 33rd year with the Sheriff’s Office, had received endorsements from Vern Miller, the former sheriff, district attorney and state attorney general, and from former Sheriff Mike Hill and former U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt.
Easter, a Wichita police captain with 23 years with the Police Department, was endorsed by Police Chief Norman Williams and other top police officials, Chief Deputy District Attorney Kim Parker, the Fraternal Order of Police and Kansans for Life PAC.
The jail issue cost Hinshaw some votes.
Outside the polling place at 3700 E. Lincoln, Donna Lyles said she voted for Easter. “I think we need some new blood in there based on that latest controversy we had with the jail,” the 67-year-old said, referring to the jailer who has been charged with sex crimes.
At the same polling place, 51-year-old Nola Welch said she voted for Hinshaw. “I like how he’s run it so far,” Welch said. “If it’s working, why change?”
Hinshaw and Easter clashed over the handling of an investigation into allegations that a sheriff’s jail deputy, David Kendall, sexually assaulted inmates.
Hinshaw said his office thoroughly and appropriately investigated the allegations. But Easter contended that the Sheriff’s Office should have notified prosecutors of the case earlier. Easter’s campaign website said that “significant changes must be made in order to restore safety and transparency to a jail that’s been poorly managed.”
Hinshaw, 54, who was elected sheriff in 2008, said Easter was politicizing the case and said there is no culture of abuse at the jail.
Easter, who has been widely recognized for his lead role in a multi-agency task force that put dozens of gang members in prison using federal law, was 2007 Officer of the Year. The 44-year-old said that the death of his younger brother, Kevin Easter, a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed in the line of duty in 1996, inspired his decision to work his way into a leadership role in law enforcement. Easter said his brother’s death made him realize how life is short and it motivated him to aspire to some day become police chief or sheriff.
In a speech to supporters Tuesday night, he said he never thought he would lead Hinshaw by such a wide margin. He noted it was his first political race, so he wasn’t sure what to expect.
Before he ended his speech, he brought up the two people not in the room, his mother, Jan, who died at age 50, and Kevin.
“I’m sure they’re looking down on us,” Easter said.
Someone seconded him. “Hear, hear!”
The sheriff makes $118,875 a year. The office has a $50 million budget and about 500 employees and is responsible for the jail, road patrol and investigative units, court security, delivery of court papers, extraditions and checking to make sure registered offenders are living and working where they say they are.