The Ada County Commissioners had many tough questions for the hopefuls for Ada County Sheriff on Wednesday afternoon.
In the wake of the sudden resignation of Sheriff Steve Bartlett, the Ada County Republican Central Committee named three possible successors: Doug Traubel, Mike Chilton, and Matt Clifford. All three candidates stood before the three elected commissioners and a packed house to talk criminal justice reform, the concept of a “Constitutional Sheriff,” and leadership this week before the three commissioners are set to make a final selection Friday.
The selected candidate will serve for a year and have to run for election in 2022 before running again for a full four-year term in 2024 if they choose to continue.
BoiseDev listened to all three interviews, and here are some highlights from each in order of each candidate’s appearance before the board.
Traubel formerly worked for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office from 1994 through 2003 when he transferred to the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office to work as an investigator. He left the county in March 2019 and has been “semi-retired” since that time.
Right off the bat, commissioners raised concerns about Traubel’s writing on political matters, which includes published articles, posts on social media, and a book he published.
Republican Commissioner Rod Beck and Democrat Commissioner Kendra Kenyon both read excerpts from his writings, which included comments calling single mothers “not economically viable units that require state support,” allegations about numbers of rapes committed against white women by Black men, and commentary calling Jewish people a “villainous and bloodthirsty ruling class of the Soviet Union.” Traubel admitted some of his writing was “provocative,” and perhaps he could have been more careful in stating his opinions, but he stood behind all of it and what he called his research methods.
“Everyone has their own personal politics and preferences, but my difference is I wear mine on my sleeve,” Traubel said. “My professionalism trumps any preferences I have. I have never treated anybody differently. It’s been reflected over and over and over again in my evaluations.”
When Kenyon asked him to back up his estimation that 50% of rape allegations are false, he could not provide a source “off the top of my head.”
Later in the interview, Traubel described his leadership style as a mix of “authoritarian” and collaborative, depending on the situation. He told the commissioners he believes the sheriff is the ultimate authority in any county because the position is named in the US Constitution, giving him the authority to supersede actions and orders given by other agencies, like the Boise Police Department.
He gave a hypothetical example where if the Mayor of Boise told the Boise Police Chief to allow Black Lives Matter protesters to destroy downtown Boise, he would intervene.
“If they are standing down when they should be defending life and property, if leadership from the mayor is telling these officers to stand down and let downtown be destroyed in that scenario, that is demoralizing for the officers,” he said. “I would step in and call those officers under my command even and do the right thing. We cannot let this slip into Seattle and Portland.”
Traubel said the decision to leave the county was “mutual” because his political writings became bolder after he qualified for early retirement. In response to a question, he told the commissioners he had never been placed on administrative leave. Then, he told the commissioners the county’s social media policy led to him being let go.
“I was violating the social media policy, once I read it,” he admitted. “I was counseled on that and I was sent home with pay and then I resigned.”
He received a lengthy standing ovation from a few dozen audience members.
Chilton worked for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office from 1994 to 2010. He ran against coroner Dotti Owens, a Democrat, in 2014. Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson and Republican former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney endorsed Owens over Chilton during that race.
In the last eleven years he has been out of law enforcement, he has been an instructor teaching high school and College of Western Idaho students about law enforcement and running his business, All American Investments.
Chilton has been out of law enforcement for more than a decade, but he said he kept strong ties with the community and has received an outpouring of support from deputies in the department texting him their support for his candidacy for Sheriff. Republican Commissioner Ryan Davidson encouraged him to tell his supporters to send those letters to the commission so they can track the support, but Chilton did not think this was a good course of action.
“There’s something unfair about that,” he said. “The cabal that has controlled Ada County for three and a half decades is still there so I think a lot of people would be hesitant to (express their support) publicly.”
Chilton was also the only candidate of the three who declined to send in a waiver allowing for the commissioners to conduct a full background check. He said three different attorneys reviewed the waiver and he objected to it because it would “dox everything to the public.”
“I am not opposed to letting you look at all personnel investigations, but do not dox it to the public in 2021 when we live in a world where ANTIFA and BLM show up,” he said. “A former commission was very concerned that people showed up at her house. Potentially you could have those people showing up at my friends, family and business associations. The amount of information you are putting out to the public is concerning to me.”
In response to some questions from Davidson on criminal justice reform and jail capacity, Chilton said he would like to slow the number of minor offenders arrested and put behind bars while they await trial. He also opposed civil asset forfeiture, which is the practice of law enforcement officers taking property from people suspected of being involved in criminal activity.
“If we lock every low-level criminal up at $50,000 a year, I don’t ever see the end to this,” he said. “We should concentrate on the violent criminals in our society… We need to reimagine the way the sheriff’s office and law enforcement works.”
He received a scattering of applause from the audience.
Clifford is the only candidate currently working in law enforcement and serves as the Eagle Police Chief under Ada County’s contract with the city. He started at the sheriff’s office in 2000 when he started as a jail deputy and later worked as a patrol deputy, patrol sergeant, K-9 handler, and on the inmate transport team.
In his opening remarks, he told the commissioners he was part of internal discussions with Bartlett and a small group of other sheriff’s office employees to lay out a succession plan to the sheriff’s office. Clifford met with Barlett six days before he announced his sudden retirement last month to discuss him possibly running for Sheriff in 2024 if Bartlett chose not to serve another term.
He acknowledged that Ada County’s Sheriff has often been a candidate from inside the office over outsider candidates. Clifford said this is because the agency recruits staff members with leadership qualities and prepares them for the opportunity to run the agency and supervise its hundreds of employees.
“The sheriff’s office does have the better candidate because we identify leadership and we train for that,” he said. “You’ve got people who trained for the job, so you’re going to beat out the people who didn’t.”
In response to questions from Beck and Davidson about mandatory minimum sentencing, Clifford told the commissioners he thought Idaho and the county should continue to build drug treatment programs and other initiatives to keep people out of jail and prisons. Still, he wanted to keep Idaho’s culture of strong punishments for crimes.
“When I talk to officers from California and Colorado, I say ‘this is illegal here’ and they say ‘well not where I’m from, we just have to let them do that because they won’t prosecute it anymore’,” Clifford said.
“I was watching the news and they were talking about Seattle and the tents outside the businesses. And I thought that’s Downtown Seattle with all of these nice shops and restaurants and then there’s tents along the sidewalk with a guy shooting heroin in his tent. How do we become that? I think Idaho has made it fairly known we’re not going to do that.”
Beck asked Clifford about how he would handle a hypothetical situation where the constitutional rights of Ada County citizens were being violated by the federal government, like in a situation where AR-15s were banned, and his agency was asked to collect residents’ weapons.
“People move here in droves and a big reason they move here is to enjoy those rights,” he said. “As a sheriff, I would promise you I would use everything in my power to protect the constitutional rights of the citizens of Ada County and to protect the second amendment. I need Idaho to stay Idaho.”
He received rousing applause and cheers from the packed room, many of whom wore blue and yellow Matt Clifford for Sheriff stickers.