Standing outside one of the most prominent African-American churches in Los Angeles, Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold Wednesday formally announced his candidacy for L.A. County Sheriff.
“Despite the negativity surrounding the Sheriff’s Department, I see hope,” Hellmold told a group of about 100 supporters at First AME Church in the West Adams District. “We need to weed out what is bad and build up on what is right.”
The department faces major problems, including the hiring of unqualified deputies and a recent history of excessive use of force against jail inmates. In December, a federal grand jury indicted 18 current and former Sheriff’s officials on corruption and civil rights charges. The investigation is ongoing.
Under pressure, Sheriff Lee Baca has announced he will step down January 31. Baca has said either Hellmold or another assistant sheriff, Todd Rogers, would be a qualified successor.
Department critics have said someone from outside the organization should be the next sheriff. Hellmold, a 25-year veteran of the department, argues he was part of a new management team that has reduced the use of force by deputies working inside the jails.
“We need an effective leader who already has implemented reforms,” Hellmold said. “Our deputies are doing an outstanding job in the jail, and somebody needs to tell that story.”
Civil rights attorney Connie Rice said Hellmold has been a progressive voice at the Sheriff’s Department. She pointed to his support of gang intervention workers, and compassion for people who get in trouble with the law.
“James Hellmold will look at them as human beings first,” Rice said. “That’s how he sees us. He doesn’t see us as black and brown fodder for his arrest warrants.”
More than a dozen clergy members and activists from the Watts area showed up to support Hellmold. They lauded his efforts to reach out to the community when he was a captain at the Sheriff’s Century Station.
“He goes over and beyond the call of duty,” said Reverend Joe Waller of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. He recalled Hellmold handing out food during the holidays. “He goes out of his way to make sure that those who are in need are supplied with food.
Hellmold is currently one of four assistant sheriffs under Baca. He commands all field operations across L.A. County, the detective division, and the homeland security division.
He has deep roots at the department. Hellmold’s father was a sergeant who worked for the organization for 32 years.
Four other current or former Sheriff's officials are vying to succeed Baca, including Rogers, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, former Sheriff's Commander Bob Olmsted, and former Lt. Pat Gomez. Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell and LAPD Sgt. Lou Vince are also running. The primary election is in June.