by Keith Sanders
In the November 2022 elections, voters elected a new sheriff in Bristol County, Massachusetts: Democrat Paul Heroux defeated his Republican opponent, Sheriff Tom Hodgson. The local race garnered national headlines, not just because Heroux, a former Attleboro mayor and state representative, ousted a 25-year incumbent. Heroux was aided in his election campaign by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control organization founded by former Democratic Presidential candidate and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Everytown spent over $55 million in the 2020 election cycle in an effort to “end gun violence” in America, according to Bloomberg. The organization marshalled about $300,000 for Heroux’s campaign in his race to unseat Sheriff Hodgson, who spent roughly $220,000 on his reelection effort.
A national organization spending big sums in local sheriff’s elections might seem unusual. But Everytown argues that elected officials who have espoused anti-gun control rhetoric, like Sheriff Hodgson, typically do not enforce gun control laws. According to John Feinblatt, who heads the Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund, they are “hell-bent on using their office to suit their own ‘guns everywhere’ agenda.”
Sheriff Hodgson is also affiliated with the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls this an “extremist” group, which “endeavors to radicalize county sheriffs across the country into believing they are the ultimate law enforcement authority, able to enforce, ignore or break state and federal law as they chose.” As NPR reported, “[t]he basic idea is that a county sheriff’s authority should supersede the federal government’s.”
The risk is not a small one. As PLN has found, “sheriffs are special,” with “control over budgets that can be in the billions of dollars” while at the same time “the office of sheriff is one which comes with very little, if any, oversight.” [See: PLN, Jan. 2022, p.1.]
The outgoing sheriff in Bristol County is no stranger to controversy. In 2017, Hodgson offered to let then-President Donald J. Trump (R) use the labor of those incarcerated in the county jail to help build a wall on the Mexican border. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.62.] In 2020, Hodgson’s jailers used pepper balls and dogs on 10 asylum seekers held for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over a COVID-19 testing dispute, prompting an investigation by the federal Department of Homeland Security, ICE’s parent agency. ICE then ended its contract with the Bristol County House of Correction to house immigration detainees after complaints about inhumane treatment and conditions inside the jail. [See: PLN, Oct. 2021, p.58.]
Other “constitutional sheriffs” include Mark Lamb of Pinal County, Arizona; Jesse Watts of Eureka, Nevada; Scott Jenkins of Culpeper, Virginia; and Wayne Ivey of Brevard, Florida, whose “Wheel of Fugitives” stunt on the sheriff’s department Facebook page has drawn at least one lawsuit from a man who was called a fugitive even though he was sitting in the county jail.
Bristol County Sheriff-elect Heroux has experience working in the state Department of Corrections, as well as in the Philadelphia prison system. He plans to “focus more on administration and less on enforcement.”
Sources: Daily Beast, NBC News, NPR, WCVB
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