By Lillian Boyd
Sandra Hutchens, a former Dana Point resident and the first female sheriff of Orange County, died on Monday, Jan. 4, after a long bout with breast cancer.
Hutchens was appointed sheriff in 2008 by the Orange County Board of Supervisors, following the conviction of her predecessor, Mike Carona, on corruption charges.
Hutchens had spent nearly three decades in law enforcement before retiring in 2007 as the Division Chief for the Office of Homeland Security of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, overseeing more than 1,000 personnel and eight bureaus.
Her leadership experience helped set her apart in the field of nine finalists that were being considered for that job, according to state Senator and then-Fifth District Supervisor Pat Bates.
“I think, certainly, that her resume puts her in the top tier,” Bates previously told San Clemente Times in 2008. “She’s had 29 years of experience in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and worked her way up to fourth in command before she retired.”
“She took office at a difficult time. The public’s trust had been broken by the previous sheriff. Upon taking office, she immediately took action to put one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies back on track,” incumbent Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement. “She was a leader whose ethics matched the culture of the men and women of this department. She restored our pride, gave us back our dignity and rebuilt trust with the people we serve.”
In the wake of her death, Bates described Hutchens as an incredible public servant of the highest ethical standard.
“She was a trailblazer who worked hard to restore trust to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department during a tough period in its history,” Bates said. “She faced challenges and controversy with a fortitude and grace that left a lasting legacy.”
She won the election in 2010 and won an uncontested reelection bid in 2014. But among those controversies during her tenure, Hutchens faced criticism for revoking concealed weapons permits that Carona had issued.
The Orange County Register reported that Hutchens also acknowledged inadequate deputy training that could have contributed to improperly used informants in prosecuting defendants.
In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called for Hutchens to resign, alleging inhumane and violent conditions in the Orange County jails. That year, she announced she would resign at the end of her term rather than seek reelection.
Before her term had expired, however, she recommended that Barnes, her then-Undersheriff, take her place. He went on to win the 2018 election for OC Sheriff.
According to Barnes’ statement, Hutchens was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012.
“She courageously fought this disease while still leading this department,” Barnes said. “Her fight was successful for eight years. Unfortunately, the cancer recently returned and Sheriff Hutchens passed this morning with her loved ones by her side.”
Barnes described Hutchens as a close mentor and friend.
“I will continue to be inspired by her commitment to always do the right thing, regardless of the consequences, and serve with the department and community’s interests first without need for self-recognition,” Barnes said.
In accordance with Sheriff Hutchens’ wishes, there will not be a memorial service. Her family asks that donations be made in her name to Drug Use Is Life Abuse at duila.org or the Susan G. Komen Foundation at komen.org.
Lillian Boyd is the senior editor for Picket Fence Media and city editor for Dana Point Times. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Humboldt State University. Her work experience includes interviewing incarcerated individuals in the Los Angeles County jails, an internship at the Pentagon covering U.S. Army news as well as reporting and anchoring for a local news radio station in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @Lillianmboyd and follow Dana Point Times at @danapointtimes.