Dallas County sheriff faces her predecessor in primary election

Sheriff Marian Brown was endorsed by her predecessor Lupe Valdez, who left office to run for governor in 2018. Valdez is trying to win the seat back from Brown.

By Marina Trahan Martinez, KERA NewsMarch 4, 2024 10:15 am, ,

From KERA News:

Running the jail in the state’s second biggest county is not for the weak or timid. Lew Sterrett Justice Center is fully run and funded by Dallas County employees and elected officials, unlike larger Harris County and many others around the state.

Ahead of the March 5 joint primary election, the current sheriff and her predecessor hope to convince voters that they can handle the accountability. The sheriff is also responsible for policing unincorporated areas of Dallas County and works with county commissioners to budget needs and improvements.

Sheriff Marian Brown was endorsed and suggested by her predecessor Lupe Valdez, who left office to run for governor in 2018.

Brown is the county’s first African American sheriff and among the nation’s five African American female sheriffs.

Valdez is the first woman and Hispanic elected sheriff in Dallas County, and the country’s first openly gay Hispanic sheriff.

They now face each other as the two leading candidates among five on the Democratic primary ticket.

Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown speaks to media members at a scene Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, in Dallas.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA

“I helped her get in and I endorsed her,” Valdez said. “…I wanted her to come in and help a lot of minorities working in the jail and help them promote and help make it a very decent environment for them to work in. In 2005, when I took over the department…it was very common for minority inmates to get beat up.”

No Republicans are running, so the primary election likely decides who will lead Dallas County Sheriff’s Office and run its jail.

It recently passed its annual Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection for the first time in years. The pandemic complicated recent inspections, Brown said.

“Our concern during that time was to keep people safe,” she said. “So if we didn’t write down something, we forgot to lock something in, we forgot to do something else that we were supposed to do — we were keeping people safe. And we are proud of the fact that not only were we keeping people safe, but the two years that we were failing inspection, we were absolutely leading in the State of Texas.”

The jail often holds more than 6,200 inmates and provides medical and mental health care from the Parkland Health system, as well as rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

Maintaining that care and improving those programs and adjudication are a priority for Brown. She says keeping good staff and recruiting more is also at the top of her list.

Valdez, who now works for DeSoto police, said people kept asking her to run again for sheriff because Brown doesn’t respond to employees.

“And you cannot fix things that take five or six or seven groups to come together if you don’t respond to them” Valdez said. “You need to be able to reach out and bring them in.”

Brown said she and her staff do pay attention to department needs.

Lupe Valdez was Dallas County sheriff from 2005 to 2017.
Christopher Connelly / KERA News

“I refute that,” she said. “Because we’re not in places where she knows where we are does not mean that we’re being unresponsive. And because I go to events and maybe she doesn’t know about them, or maybe they’re not the events that she would have me to go to. We have different preferences, different lifestyles.”

Brown worked in former Sheriff Valdez’s inner circle for three years, yet Valdez still calls her the wrong name, she said.

“And so if I’m third in command and that’s how much you care, or not, about me, then how can you claim to care so much more about all of those other people who are so much further down in rank that you don’t work with on a day to day basis?” Brown said.

Brown said she’s proud the department has done more in the community, like resuming participation in National Night Out events.

Valdez has raised the most campaign funds among the candidates, according to Dallas County campaign finance reports.

The former sheriff raised more than $127,000, while Sheriff Brown and Sam Mohamad each raised about $60,000 each.

Rodney Thomas and Roy Williams Jr. are also choices on the primary election ballot.

Valdez’s campaign manager Mike Hendrix said poll numbers as of Feb. 29 are encouraging.

“It looks like we have a good shot at winning this without a runoff,” Hendrix said.

The team was headed to a “turnout the vote” tour at Cedar Springs bars before polls closed at 7 p.m.

Dallas County’s joint Democratic and Republican primary election day is Tuesday, March 5.

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