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Candidate for sheriff under fire after controversial comments

John Hemmerling says his comments were specifically about the County's recent ordinance on the definition of gender, and were "never meant to offend anyone."

SAN DIEGO — One of the candidates for San Diego County Sheriff is under fire, after controversial comments he made at a candidates' forum in the East County. 

After the remarks on transgender women made by Republican John Hemmerling, the San Diego Union-Tribune opted to withdraw their support of his candidacy.

Hemmerling confirmed to CBS 8 that he retired from the the San Diego City Attorney's office effective Thursday: a move he says that he's been planning for a while, as he now focuses his full attention on the race for sheriff.

This move also came just a day after the San Diego Union-Tribune withdrew its support for his candidacy, following his April 30 appearance  at a candidates' forum in Ramona.

"The board of supervisors passed an ordinance the other day at the county that redefined what a woman is, where it included men," Hemmerling said during his remarks. "Yeah, they did. That's right. and you think that those individuals that endorsed some of those candidates, they're going to be asking them to enforce that out here, allow those men to go to the women's bathrooms, right? That's what I'm saying."

Following these comments, the San Diego Union-Tribune rescinded its original endorsement of Hemmerling, writing that his remarks, "raise grave doubts about his ability to change jail culture. We can no longer recommend voters put him in charge of a population that is among the county's most vulnerable when inmates are dying at disproportionate rates in local jails and transgender inmates are at additional risk."

Hemmerling told CBS 8 that his comments were specifically about the county's recent ordinance on the definition of gender, and not in reference to the jail system, adding that his remarks were "never meant to offend anyone."

 "He definitely needs to step down," said community activist Tasha Williamson, founder of the non-profit  'Exhaling Injustice'. 

She pointed out that the death rate among inmates in the San Diego County jail system is the highest in the state, with another death reported Wednesday: the tenth so far this year. 

Over the years, several transgender inmates in San Diego County have claimed discrimination and abuse, including one transgender woman who sued the county last fall, after being jailed with men, one of whom allegedly attacked her.

"It is imperative that we have a sheriff who is going to protect and care for everyone who is under their duty of care," Williamson added. 

Hemmerling had previously served in the Marines and on the police force, before joining the San Diego City Attorney's office, at one point serving as chief criminal prosecutor.

Hemmerling told CBS 8 that while he is disappointed by the Union-Tribune's action, he respects their decision, adding that he is committed to treating everyone equally and fairly. 

CBS 8 also reached out to the other candidates in the race for Sheriff. 

Dave Myers wrote: 

"Sheriffs leadership has completely  collapsed leading to historic record deaths in custody, another inmate died in custody yesterday. At this rate in custody jail deaths will exceed 50 at years end. In the last two years, our region experienced a double digit increase in hate crimes yet Undersheriff Kelly Martinez increased clerks to issue more concealed gun permits. Any hateful or hurtful speech, especially anyone desiring public office must speak forcefully against hate and discrimination."

Chuck Battle wrote: 

"I have sought to run a clean and honest campaign, conducting myself in all venues in a gentlemanly fashion keeping it about the issues. I have purposely refrained about commenting on the relative merits of the other candidates, choosing instead to focus solely on my positions, the topics of the day, and on my qualifications which are replete with examples of how one problem solves and leads by thinking outside the box and with the consensus and the buy-in of the "entire" community. My sense of honor warns it would be wholly opportunistic and self-serving of me as a candidate to take advantage of the convenient predicament Mr. Hemmerling has apparently created for himself by misspeaking, to use the most charitable characterization for these allegations.

Nonetheless, I pride myself on having stated as my position my solemn intention to treat all persons fairly, as I always have. This pledge to treat all persons equal of course includes both the public and the sheriff's staff going forward. It's sad his momentary lapse of judgment - if that's what it was - may have disadvantaged him to the advantage of another. However, I truly believe there are no coincidences and that things happen for a reason.

Nothing could be more crucial at this time than to build back confidence and trust with both the community and with sworn staff. One needs to live the part we claimed and asserted would be our role as sheriff. People in all cases must be treated and spoken about with proper care and respect."

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