Sheriff Bill Gore has already endorsed his undersheriff, Kelly Martinez (inset), to take his place. Gore photo by Chris Stone

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore on Wednesday announced that he plans to retire next month, a move seen as a boost to his pick for successor. Gore would leave nearly a year before the end of his fourth term in the post.

Statement from Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. (PDF)

Gore, 74, who announced last summer that he would not seek re-election this year, says he’ll step down Feb. 3. Gore was appointed sheriff in 2009 by the Board of Supervisors and subsequently elected to the position three times.

His current stint as sheriff ends next January.

Undersheriff Kelly Martinez, who last August announced her candidacy to succeed Gore in 2022, would thus become acting sheriff. But she issued a statement that she would decline appointment as interim sheriff.

“The people of San Diego deserve a fair race for sheriff as well as an appointment process they can trust,” Martinez said. “I’ll work hard to earn the support of San Diego County voters who want a sheriff with experience and commitment to public safety.”

Martinez, 58, in February 2021 was named the department’s undersheriff. She is the first woman to hold that post.

“Public safety is my highest priority,” the 36-year veteran told the San Diego Union-Tribune at the time. “As sheriff, San Diego County residents can trust that I will put the safety of our communities first. I will ensure fair policing for all.”

It’s her first campaign for elected office. She faces former sheriff’s commander Dave Myers, who ran unsuccessfully against Gore in 2018. Also seeking the post are Assistant City Attorney John Hemerling and sheriff’s Deputy Kenneth Newsom.

Myers told Times of San Diego: “Even as deputies were being forced to work overtime and being denied family leave, the sheriff was planning his retirement and Undersheriff Kelly Martinez was vacationing in Italy in December. That’s not leadership. That’s arrogance and complacency at its worst.”

The Democratic-endorsed Myers added: “What we’ve recently seen from the sheriff and his undersheriff is a continuation of missteps – the refusals to release video footage of jail assaults and deaths, the politically motivated evictions during COVID, the spreading of damaging false information about fentanyl.”

He also slammed the Sheriff’s Department on jail deaths “due to incompetence and neglect,” and for its “deafening silence on the damning racial profiling report, complete lack of transparency on the Rebecca Zahau death investigation, and mismanagement of evidence in the crime labs.”

On Thursday, candidate Hemmerling said: “It does not appear that this decision was made to improve Kelly Martinez’s chances, because she has said she won’t seek an interim appointment and the county Board of Supervisors won’t be appointing any of the candidates to that position.”

Hemmerling said via email that supervisors should appoint a “competent law enforcement professional to serve as interim sheriff who will hit the ground running, not just act as a caretaker.”

The former San Diego police officer and 30-year Marine veteran added: “Issues of limiting deaths in our jails and protecting the lives and safety of all of our citizens in a fair and equitable way cannot wait.”

San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher said he would call a special meeting in March — after the election filing deadline — to consider an interim sheriff to serve the remainder of Gore’s term.

Fletcher said he didn’t think the interim sheriff should be an individual who has filed to run for the seat in the 2022 election.

“The voters are poised to make a very consequential decision on who they want to be our next sheriff, and it would be inappropriate for us to put our thumb on the scale this close to the election by appointing a person who is a candidate for sheriff,” Fletcher said.

“The previous board of supervisors had a habit of appointing their chosen candidate for countywide offices very close to an election. I didn’t think it was right for them and it would not be right for us.”

He said that in coming weeks, the county will outline a public process for the application, vetting, public input, and consideration of an interim sheriff.

“I am looking for an interim sheriff who will reduce violent crime, fully support efforts to improve the conditions in our jail system, embrace best practices for leading a law enforcement agency and demonstrate a commitment to racial justice,” he said in a statement.

Reporter Kelly Davis noted on Twitter that in 2009 Sheriff Bill Kolender announced his retirement, and picked Gore, his undersheriff, as his successor.

“Gore’s undersheriff is Kelly Martinez, whom he’s already endorsed to replace him,” she said. “So when Martinez’s name appears on the ballot, ‘Sheriff’ will appear next to it. Unless the county Board of Supervisors refuses to appoint her as interim sheriff.”

In a statement, Gore said: “Serving as your sheriff for the last 12 years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my law enforcement career. I will always be grateful to the residents of this county for their continued confidence and support during my tenure. It has also been my honor to have had the daily support from the extraordinary men and women of this department who sacrifice every day for the citizens of San Diego County.”

Gore hailed his wife for her sacrifices in supporting his 51-year law enforcement career, beginning in 1970 with the FBI.

“In retirement, I will have the opportunity to give my full attention and support to her as she has done for me during our 43 years of marriage,” he said. “I have been truly blessed to have had a long career in public safety surrounded by some of the finest professionals in this country. I am also grateful for the many friendships I have developed in San Diego and around the country. I look forward to many wonderful years with those friends and my family.”

In the FBI, rose to the rank of assistant director in Washington, D.C. He also served as the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI field offices in San Diego and Seattle.

After 32 years with the FBI, he retired and worked for one year as the Chief Investigator and Special Advisor to newly elected San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

In 2004, then-Sheriff Kolender appointed him as assistant sheriff overseeing the Law Enforcement Services Bureau. In 2006, he was appointed undersheriff, overseeing the Sheriff’s Department’s daily operations.

Updated at 1:26 p.m. Jan. 20, 2022

City News Service contributed to this report.