Subscribe

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick will not run for reelection

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick announced Thursday he will not run for reelection next year, signaling the end of nearly three decades with the office and a single term leading the county’s largest law enforcement agency.

Elected in June 2018 and sworn into office the following January, Essick told The Press Democrat he did not intend to stay in policing after his term ends at the end of 2022.

Essick outlined several reasons for deciding to leave law enforcement. Primary among them, he said, was the strain his 28 years on the force put on him and his relationships with his family.

“Many, many times this job has come before my family and my wife and my marriage,” he said. “It wears on you physically and mentally to do the job every day.”

Still, he said he looks back on his career fondly, “grateful for the gift that I’ve been given by the people of Sonoma County, which is to be their sheriff.”

Essick’s term as sheriff has been tumultuous, with the department and him at the center of multiple public disputes.

Essick came under fire last year when he announced he would not enforce the county’s stay-at-home public health order restricting some business activity and civic life, calling the restrictions overly burdensome for businesses. He also criticized county Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase, saying she did not effectively communicate with his department.

That announcement put Essick at odds with local lawmakers, who accused Essick of showing a both lack of concern for public health and deference to a fellow county leader.

In another high-profile spectacle earlier this year, Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins filed a formal complaint against Essick with the county’s legal department, in which she accused Essick of harassment and bullying after feeling threatened by his comments during a phone call last August during the Walbridge fire.

The complaint prompted an investigation that concluded in December, though its findings have not been disclosed. Essick has in turn sued the county to bar release of the investigation’s records and findings, arguing he is protected by the same laws giving privacy to most misconduct investigations into peace officers.

In response to Essick’s Thursday announcement, Hopkins called for “collaboration and mutual respect” from the department under its future leadership. She did not elaborate on their relationship beyond saying, “Some of it is a matter of public record.”

“I’m a firm believer that we don’t always have to agree, but as long as we want to treat one another with respect and work in the best interest of the community, everyone benefits,” Hopkins said.

Also this year, under Essick’s watch, the office’s liability insurance premiums skyrocketed by $2.7 million in the wake of excessive force claims against the department going back nearly a decade.

And since 2018, public opinion of the Sheriff’s Office has taken a dive, according to a recent Press Democrat poll.

The survey, which polled 500 registered Sonoma County voters in July, found Essick’s favorability had a poor rating. Survey results showed that 38% of respondents had an unfavorable opinion while 30% had a favorable opinion. It also found the number of respondents with a favorable opinion of the office dropped from 70% in 2018 to 48% in 2021. Those with an unfavorable opinion of the office rose from 15% in 2018 to 35% in since the beginning of this year.

While the sheriff denied that these controversies had anything to do with his choice not to run in the upcoming election, he did note that “some of the things that have happened since I’ve been sheriff, just to be honest and up front, they’ve worn on me.”

He specified that he and his staff struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic and the death in August of Lt. Robert Travelstead to the illness. Recent legislation on police reforms also represented a burden, he said.

“It’s a tough time to be a leader in law enforcement,“ Essick said. “We are going through a period in our state history and our nation’s history where law enforcement is really under a microscope.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law eight criminal justice reform bills Thursday prior to Essick’s announcement. Included in those bills was one which will allow state regulators to decertify cops found guilty of serious misconduct and bar them from working in California law enforcement.

Essick said he supports efforts to increase transparency and accountability, but that their execution is “time-consuming and taxing and difficult just trying to comply with the law on limited resources.”

On a show on radio station KSRO Thursday afternoon, Essick introduced and endorsed Assistant Sheriff Eddie Engram as his successor.

“I think his resume will speak for itself and his qualifications will speak for themselves,” Essick said on the broadcast.

Engram, who would be Sonoma County’s first Black sheriff if elected, currently oversees the agency’s detention division.

"I’m proud of who I am and proud of what I’ve done. The most important thing for me is being the best sheriff I can be for Sonoma County,“ Engram said.

The decision sets up a contested race for the office in the June 2022 election. Retired Sonoma County Sheriff’s Capt. Dave Edmonds announced in July that he would be seeking the office.

Edmonds criticized Essick’s endorsement of Engram as a problematic pattern in the department of outgoing sheriff’s picking their successors.

Despite his decades with the department before retiring, Edmonds said he is now an “outsider” who can bring the change, skills and commitment to transparency the department needs.

“It’s been one succession after the other and it’s not the right way to do this,” said Edmonds.

Essick’s exit comes as a third candidate has entered the field for sheriff — retired San Francisco police sergeant Carl Tennenbaum, who has advocated for criminal justice reform.

Sonoma County saw its first contested race for the sheriff’s seat in a quarter century when Essick was elected in 2018 but now is set to see its second in four years.

Essick will finish his term in December 2022. In the 15 months until then, he plans to complete implementation of programs within the detention center, including a Medically Assisted Treatment program to help treat detainees with opioid use disorders, and a behavioral health unit for detainees with mental health disorders.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised to note Carl Tennenbaum’s entry into the 2022 field for Sonoma County Sheriff.

Staff reporter Andrew Graham contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writers Emily Wilder at 602-736-5270 or emily.wilder@pressdemocrat.com and Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or emma.murphy@pressdemocrat.com

Emily Wilder

Criminal justice and public safety, The Press Democrat  

Criminal justice is one of the most stirring and consequential systems, both in the North Bay and nationwide. Crime, policing, prosecution and incarceration have ripples that reach many parts of our lives, and these issues are under increasingly powerful microscopes. My goal is to uncover untold stories and understand the unique impacts of criminal justice and public safety on Sonoma County.

Emma Murphy

County government, politics reporter

The decisions of Sonoma County’s elected leaders and those running county government departments impact people’s lives in real, direct ways. Your local leaders are responsible for managing the county’s finances, advocating for support at the state and federal levels, adopting policies on public health, housing and business — to name a few — and leading emergency response and recovery.
As The Press Democrat’s county government and politics reporter, my job is to spotlight their work and track the outcomes.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette