This year, voters ousted many law enforcement officials who faced public protests over their actions if not allegations of outright misconduct. In August, St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch lost in his first contested election since the Ferguson protests of 2014.
On Tuesday, voters ousted two other public officials who drew fire for their handling of police shooting investigations.
In Rensselaer County, New York, District Attorney Joel Abelove was indicted in 2017 for withholding evidence from a grand jury in the aftermath of a police shooting. (The charges were dismissed in June, though the state attorney general’s office has appealed.) Abelove lost his re-election bid against Mary Pat Donnelly. Donnelly said she would abide by requests from statewide officials to take over police shooting investigations; Abelove’s refusal to do so was at the crux of the charges against him. “For the elected DA of the county to insist on handling the investigation of a police officer who he works with on a frequent basis, it just doesn’t allow for justice to be served,” Donnelly told WAMC.
In New York’s 11th Congressional District, which encompasses Brooklyn and Staten Island, Republican Rep. Dan Donovan lost his re-election bid against Max Rose, his Democratic challenger. As district attorney of Staten Island, Donovan drew protests for wrapping up his investigation into Eric Garner’s death without bringing any indictment. In 2017, Rose co-authored an an op-ed in Forbes in 2017 that denounced the “staggering” scope of mass incarceration and obstacles to re-entry.
But voters also approved more systemic reforms to the handling of police shootings. Nashville, Tennessee, approved an independent civilian board to investigate police misconduct; the board will have subpoena power, though it will only issue recommendations to the police department and the mayor. And Washington State approved Initiative 940, which lower the standard that prosecutors have to meet to prosecute a police officer who shoots and kills a civilian.
Sheriff misconduct was also on the ballot Tuesday, with some mixed results. The sheriffs of Wake County, North Carolina, and Los Angeles County, California, lost their re-election bids. The Appeal has reported on the aggressive policing they have overseen, but the sheriffs of Hillsborough County, Florida and Santa Clara County, California secured new terms. In October, The Appeal reported on the abusive detention conditions in the jails that they each run.
In Alabama, voters in Morgan County and Cullman County each voted to bar sheriffs from personally pocketing funds allocated for food in jails, a practice that has been deemed legal in Alabama but that state politicians are trying to terminate. Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin, who was reported to have pocketed $750,000 of food funds over three years, lost his own re-election race a few months ago in the Republican primary.