What’s Wrong with John Hemmerling for Sheriff?

So, what’s wrong with John Hemmerling for Sheriff, San Diego? 

The Sheriff’s race is important to San Diego County Gun Owners because of its local impact on the right to bear arms, since the Sheriff is responsible for the County’s policy on concealed carry weapons permits (CCWs). San Diego County Gun Owners was enormously effective at getting the former Sheriff to change his policy so that anyone can qualify and obtain a CCW following the same procedure as other counties that issue.

My name is Michael Schwartz, and I am the executive director of San Diego County Gun Owners. One of our organization’s main purposes is to endorse candidates each election cycle. Our vetting process includes meeting with the candidate and their staff, reviewing interviews and questionnaires, and researching their history. I am strictly dealing with facts rather than rumor, who their supporters are, and what I determine to be relevant about the candidate based on my extensive vetting experience. 

In December, I was told a Republican candidate for Sheriff was announcing. I started doing research. 

My initial concerns with John Hemmerling were: (1) he wasn’t even a registered Republican until early December, (2) he worked with extreme anti-gun San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliot to aggressively spread to other departments the use of Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVROs), and (3) he had no political organizations backing him just months from the June primary election. The fact that he wasn’t a longstanding Republican didn’t matter to me, but I knew it did matter to the Republican Party and assumed they would see right through him. The fact that he had no backing and hadn’t laid any groundwork to be a viable candidate was highly concerning. He would need to get his message to 2 million voters by June and was already way behind. 

In my research, I focused my conclusions on public policy. Here is what you need to know. 

Hemmerling is a gun-grabber. 

I have spoken at length about how GVROs are dangerous and anti-Second Amendment. Hemmerling is a problem; not because he used GVROs or issued them, but because he went beyond the scope of his job to spread GVROs. This bad law enforcement tool was supposed to be used for “red flags,” but Hemmerling, with the support of City Attorney Mara Elliott, expanded its use and turned it into standard operating procedure in many departments, where they are now used even when there is no need for one. As a result of the expanded framework for “red flag laws” and its potential for abuse, I have had to refer more than a few cases to lawyers as a result of the abuse of GVROs, where their firearms were confiscated over Facebook memes or false accusations from roommates or ex-spouses. The worst part: Hemmerling wasn’t just following orders, but he also thinks GVROs are good for gun owners (see 4:20 and 9:30 in the interview).

And if Hemmerling is as pro-Second Amendment as he claims, and was “just doing his job” with GVROs, why was he a featured speaker at a conference co-sponsored by the Brady Organization (an anti-gun org)? 

Assessment: GVROs are bad enough, but the real issue is how aggressively Hemmerling spread them to other departments. Being their advocate is the real sin. Hemmerling is not good for gun owners

Hemmerling doesn’t understand CCWs, he is misleading you, and he has changed his position.

Hemmerling has said he is “shall issue” when it comes to CCWs. Being “shall issue” is a legal term that means there is no subjective requirement like California’s “proof of good cause.”  Under California’s current laws, every jurisdiction is “may issue,” and a sheriff cannot remove that requirement. A sheriff can, however, make the requirement clear and accessible by everyone so that no applicant is stopped by proof of good cause. Even then, the county is still not “shall issue.”

Am I splitting hairs here? If Hemmerling were only using the term “shall issue” for ease when talking to groups, yes. But my conversations with him prove that he really doesn’t understand the law or the term at all, which is an enormous warning sign. 

Thanks to San Diego County Gun Owners, for the last 5 years, applicants in San Diego County are no longer stopped by the proof of good cause requirement and the licensing department is issuing more than 200 permits each month. Hemmerling doesn’t know this because he has no knowledge about the CCW process. 

When I pointed out that his CCW policy either (1) falsely leads people to believe that he will eliminate the State’s good cause requirement or (2) he will draw the attention of the State if he intends to eliminate their requirement for proof of good cause, he waffled a few times and finally settled on saying, “If you meet the minimal statutory requirements, I will direct my staff to shall issue.”

That isn’t what “shall issue” means. Under that interpretation, every jurisdiction is “shall issue.”  The major takeaway: his proposed policy is no different than the current San Diego policy that SDCGO fought for. He brings nothing to the table here, despite his political doublespeak. Instead, it is potentially dangerous to the now successful CCW program. 

I gave Hemmerling a chance to prove he is passionate about CCWs. Weeks ago, I brought to his attention a retired San Diego Police Department officer who was trying to get a letter from the San Diego City Attorney’s office to obtain a federal CCW as a retired law enforcement officer. Hemmerling is refusing to help. The San Diego City Attorney’s office is refusing to give him the authorization he needs to get the CCW he is entitled to, and Hemmerling (as of this writing) could solve this in a few minutes with the stroke of a pen, but won’t. . 

Hemmerling has made claims that the current CCW process is corrupt but cannot explain how. He has made claims he will remove required paperwork but cannot articulate what paperwork he will no longer require. Currently, applicants need a government issued ID, proof of residency, a good cause statement, a completed application, and the certificate showing you completed the safety class. So… which of those will he eliminate? 

Assessment: Hemmerling will not improve San Diego’s existing proof of good cause policy and could potentially harm the program due to a lack of understanding of the law. 

Being Sheriff is complicated. 

In most elections, the candidate’s opinion is really all that matters. Basically, we want to know how they will vote on different bills. The candidate, once in office, is not expected to do anything beyond voting. But being Sheriff of San Diego County goes beyond that – it is a very complicated job and requires a set of skills obtained through experience, and requires not just making decisions, but also implementing them. In our county of 3.5 million residents, the Sheriff oversees over 4,000 employees and the use of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of specialized equipment, with a wide geographical domain ranging from rural to urban, all bumping up against an international border. The Sheriff is an executive and we must know the candidate can do the job, not just what their opinions are. 

Hemmerling has nothing on his resume to show he has any experience that will translate to effectively and safely running such a vast department. When asked, Hemmerling points to his short time as a police officer early in his career and his time as a battalion commander in the Marine Corps in a war zone. Being an entry level police officer over 25 years ago does not qualify a person to run a complicated sheriff’s department. A battalion is typically made up of 500 and 600 people (still far fewer than 4,000) and it is pretty easy to argue that a large group of Marines in a war zone is very different from 4,000 deputies and support staff in San Diego County. Commanding a battalion is certainly not without its complications, but it is comparing apples to oranges. Being a battalion commander simply does not qualify someone to manage the San Diego Sheriff’s Department. 

Still, do we have proof that he can make high-level decisions that could translate to running the Sheriff’s Department effectively? Let’s look at some examples.

101 Ash Street. The 101 Ash Street property in downtown San Diego has become a huge thorn in the City’s side. The details of this botched real estate deal aren’t as important as what happened to NBC News employee Dorian Hargrove when he reported on how badly the City screwed up. Hargrove published documents explaining just how bad the 101 Ash Street deal was for San Diego taxpayers and he received a letter from the City Attorney’s office threatening a criminal conviction against the reporter for doing his job. Why is this important?  Hemmerling is the author of the letter. City Attorney Mara Elliott eventually retracted the ludicrous letter. 

Transparency is important to voters and electing a sheriff with a history of trying to criminally prosecute reporters reflects poorly on his future relationship with voters and reporters. 

Wrongful termination. Recently, former City prosecutor Marlea Dell’Anno won a $3.9 million lawsuit against the City of San Diego for being wrongly terminated. The headlines all pointed at Mara Elliott because she’s the current City Attorney, but Dell’Anno was fired under previous City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and proved in court that she was fired for retribution.

The real story here is that the case started under former City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and was handled by Hemmerling. While Dell’Anno was the Assistant City Attorney, Hemmerling was then-City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s top advisor on labor and employment issues (this is relevant) and Hemmerling was the one who walked San Diego into an expensive lawsuit. Hemmerling failed to advise Goldsmith that it was a bad idea to fire Dell’Anno for retaliatory reasons despite being his top advisor on – again – labor and employment issues, but still testified at trial about the basis of the termination. The jury did not agree with him, and Dell’Anno was awarded $3.9 million as a result.  

A big part of the sheriff’s job leading a department of 4,000+ employees is labor issues and making good decisions regarding their employment, and we are just not seeing that here. 

Assessment: Hemmerling has nothing on his resume that qualifies him to run the Sheriff’s Department, and the high-level decisions we have seen from Hemmerling have been a disaster. 

But he’s a Republican!  

Hemmerling is the endorsed Republican in the race. When the Republicans endorsed him, he was the only Republican, but when career law enforcement officers and lifelong Republicans Chuck Battle and Jonathan Peck heard Hemmerling speak, they realized how poor of a candidate he was and both decided to run for Sheriff so Republicans could have a better alternative.

A few things are important to understand about Hemmerling’s Republican Party endorsement. Hemmerling was not a registered Republican until December of last year. He registered as a Republican when there were no other candidates running as a Republican and he did so in order to get the Republican endorsement. The endorsement does not mean that Hemmerling adheres to the Republican Party platform – in fact, most of the people who voted for him hadn’t met him or vetted him when they voted for the Party to endorse him. 

Many of the San Diego County Republican Party Central Committee members had major concerns with Hemmerling’s history of working with Mara Elliott and GVROs. They attempted to pull Hemmerling off the list of proposed endorsements, but chairperson Paula Whitsell and former chairperson Tony Krvaric wouldn’t allow it. The Central Committee members were not allowed to vote on Hemmerling’s endorsement individually, but rather he was on a large list of candidates who all were voted on at once. Hemmerling was ramrodded through the process with little discussion and despite his past Second Amendment infractions. 

The expectation is the Republican Party endorses candidates who have a set of beliefs and are generally viable. The Party does not enforce their platform and is not shy about that fact. Hemmerling had raised less than $20,000, had little experience that would qualify him to be sheriff, and had no organizations backing him when the Republican Party endorsed him. Hemmerling was the only Republican in the race so he got the endorsement. The Party was made aware of the concerns with Hemmerling and those concerns were disregarded by Republican Party leadership. 

Assessment: If you are voting for Hemmerling because you believe his Republican Party endorsement means he has a set of values that you share, you should know that his values had nothing to do with his endorsement. He was only endorsed because he was the only Republican in the race at the time. 

There is not a candidate in the race, Republican or Democrat, who wants to get rid of CCWs, believes gun bans are a good idea, supports “defunding the police,” or wants to let criminals out of jail early, including Hemmerling. But it is important to note that every other candidate in the race has more experience and expertise than Hemmerling.


Update: We recently received the following email from a retired police officer and industry leader.

Hi Mike,

I read your article about Hemmerling, and that example about his ignorance of LEOSA was spot on.

3-4 years ago, actively serving SDPD reserve officers (and we’re talking about 12 people or so, not hundreds) requested that the Chief’s office endorse their department ID cards with a LEOSA authorization (like SDSO and LAPD does).     Lack of an endorsement on an active ID card is not a denial of the right to carry; the endorsement was only sought to solidify the department’s support in case the officer found himself in another jurisdiction and somebody mistakenly equated a reserve CA peace officer with an “honorary” title that some agencies use.     Nobody wanted to end up in some rural jail overnight while things got sorted out.

Chief Nisleit punted the issue to Hemmerling, who (with little to to no knowledge of HR218 and without any legal research) abruptly said that HR218 does not apply to reserve officers because they are not considered peace officers while off-duty.    That’s it, decision made….

However it was the wrong decision.   Even the LEOSA wikipedia entry states:

LEOSA  also does not require a “qualified law enforcement officer” to be full-time, meaning that part-time, reserve, and auxiliary officers are viewed the same in the law’s application, provided that while on-duty or called to service they meet the requirements, even if inactive at the time.

Hemmerling was also provided with this information….

LEOSA-Update-2018.pdf (crpoa.org)

From that point forward, he refused to respond to e-mail messages or engage in any further discussion.   His opinion outweighed 58 pages of meticulous legal research and precedent.

The guy is a clown.    Thankfully, I don’t think most people with more than 200 brain cells are going to check the box for an attorney who has never worn a uniform.    Time will tell…..keep up the good work Sir!



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