Sheriff's candidate John Hemmerling spoke and answered questions for 33 minutes.
Sheriff’s candidate John Hemmerling met with transgender activists and earned their trust, Dave Myers says . Photo by Ken Stone

Like our national politics, our politics in San Diego County have become very divisive, so divisive that very few of us want to be seen speaking with somebody that has been demonized by one side or the other.

However, we need to be open to seizing those increasingly rare moments of meaningful and honest engagement so that we can bridge the growing divide.

When I was recently presented an opportunity with what I saw as a “teachable moment,” I didn’t hesitate to seize that opportunity. I’ve heard sheriff’s candidate John Hemmerling utter words disparaging members of the transgender community.

I’ve also been very critical of sheriff candidate Kelly Martinez’s failure to take responsibility for and apologize for the brutal beating of Kristina Frost, a transgender woman who was placed into a male jail and had her jaw broken in three places.

Martinez has also failed to provide any meaningful training to deputies on this matter. As a former sheriff’s candidate and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I spoke out against all of these because it was the right thing to do.

Not long after the San Diego Union-Tribune rescinded its endorsement of John Hemmerling because of his anti-transgender statements, he reached out to me wanting to meet. I accepted because I particularly wanted to ask him directly about his anti-transgender comments.

When we spoke, I asked if he would be willing to listen to members of the San Diego transgender community to understand their pain (physical and emotional trauma) and fears about law enforcement’s treatment of the transgender community. John agreed.

I set up an online meeting with activists in the transgender community, including an activist from the National Transgender Center. Like so many others, I could have ignored John’s reaching out. But with so much hate already in our communities, I took the chance.

In the words of Maya Angelou; “Life is full of second chances — when they come, be more intentional, courageous and appreciative.”

During the meeting, John listened, participated in some very hard, painful discussions, and answered tough questions. He admitted he was wrong and vowed that as sheriff, he would implement inclusive policies that will ensure the fair, equal and respectful treatment of the transgender community by sheriff’s deputies.

One of the transgender participants, Veronica Zerrer, an Army veteran said: “I did have the opportunity to share my positive interaction with John and yourself yesterday over breakfast with a number of trans friends. I told them that the manner in which John participated in the meeting left me feeling like I wanted to vote for the man. Respectful of me, he seemed unafraid to learn. Which is a good thing.”

I also sought clarification from John about the letter he sent to reporter Dorian Hargrove in July 2020 as chief criminal prosecutor, regarding an investigation into the leaks of confidential information about the 101 Ash Street project.

It is now very clear to me John was directed, instructed and told by his boss, City Atty. Mara Elliott, to write the letter. John confirmed with me that Elliott reviewed and edited the letter before she authorized its issuance.

We need significant change at the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department because the status quo is causing historic high rates of deaths in the jails, failing our communities of color, leaving department staff in the lurch and fostering a culture of abuse of power.

Cultural change only comes from the willingness to admit when you’re wrong and a willingness to accept new ideas from a very diverse and changing community.

John Hemmerling showed me he is the change that’s needed. Based on the current track record of the current sheriff’s leadership’s refusal to even acknowledge the harm that it has caused the transgender community, and their abuse of power — Martinez included — that’s progress indeed, especially for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

For those reasons, I have decided to fully and enthusiastically endorse John Hemmerling for sheriff. Public safety is neither a left or right issue, a Democrat or Republican issue — it is a vital public service that requires individuals of the highest moral, ethical and competency order to lead the brave women and men in law enforcement.

We do not currently have that at the sheriff’s department. John has shown me that he is a true leader who will restore competence, confidence and integrity to our sheriff’s department. I urge all of my supporters to vote for John Hemmerling for sheriff.

Dave Myers, former commander and 33-year veteran of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, ran twice for sheriff.