Two Lieutenants Might Be Challenging the Sheriff

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown addresses the media after Tuesday's deadly mudslides in Montecito (Jan. 9, 2018)
Paul Wellman

Just three months before the election, two high-ranking members of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office could be challenging their boss. Both are lieutenants and have worked for the Santa Barbara department for about 30 years.

For 12 of those years, Sheriff Bill Brown has been in charge. Brown is running again, and given that the election is on June 5, the two challengers — Brian Olmstead and Eddie Hsueh — face uphill battles.

Olmstead has 28 years of experience with the Santa Barbara department, including stints leading Isla Vista Foot Patrol, the Special Investigations Bureau, and the Santa Maria substation. He has acted as the face of the department, appearing recently at a press conference about human trafficking in Los Angeles.

Hsueh, who filed papers on Thursday, has worked for the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office for 31 years. He has headed substations in Solvang and Buellton and works on programs involving interactions between police and people experiencing mental illness. He too has entered the public eye; he was recently featured in the Santa Barbara Independent. He said Thursday he had not decided for sure if he would jump in.

When reached briefly by phone on Thursday, Olmstead could not immediately comment on the race as he was preparing for the impending storm.

Sheriff Bill Brown was first elected Santa Barbara County Sheriff in 2006. Before that, he served in many California police departments, including in Lompoc, Inglewood, and Pacifica. After 11 years as police chief in Lompoc, he ran for Sheriff. He is the current head of the State Sheriffs’ Association.

Brown, who has enjoyed support from Democrats over the years, came out strongly against the so-called sanctuary state bill, Senate Bill 54. He debated immigrants’ rights activists before the bill passed last year. The law, which went into effect January 1, prohibits county sheriffs from informing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) about when they plan to release undocumented inmates, among other things.

In 2014, Sergeant Sandra Brown (no relation) challenged the sheriff and lost by nearly 14 percentage points. After the election, she was transferred from overseeing the county morgue to supervising bailiffs in the courthouse. Higher-ups in the department claimed at the time the transfer was routine.

The fact that three candidates appear to be in the race means the election could be decided in November. Unless one candidate receives just over 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote getters will advance to the general election in the fall. The filing period closes March 9.

The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (DSA) has yet to hold an endorsement meeting. Olmstead and Hsueh both responded to solicitations by the DSA for challengers.


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