Former Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens passed away on Monday, Jan. 4 after an eight-year battle with breast cancer. She was 66.
In a statement, current Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said, “Sheriff Hutchens lived her life and led this agency with courage, grace and dignity. She bravely closed her life in the same manner. When I last spoke to her she was strong, maintained her sense of humor and continued to have a deep love and appreciation for the people of Orange County.”
According to the statement, Hutchens requested that she did not want a memorial service. Instead, her family has asked that donations be made in her name to two charities she actively supported: Drug Use is Life Abuse (duila.org) or the Susan G. Komen Foundation (komen.org).
Hutchens worked for 32 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department before retiring. Then in 2008, she became the first female sheriff in Orange County, taking over for Mike Carona in 2008 after the former sheriff resigned following corruption accusations.
She was praised for the stability she brought to the department and the fearlessness and directness in which she handled herself.
“When I came in, I didn’t have a full command staff and I didn’t know the people in the department,” Hutchens said toward the end of her tenure. “I’m proud of being able to come in and assess what the problems were, and to start to address who I needed to put in place.”
By being the first female sheriff in Orange County, Hutchens also inspired other women in law enforcement.
“When I first met Sheriff Hutchens 12 years ago, she became my mentor,” said Senior Assistant Orange County District Attorney Tracy Miller. “She was an amazing leader, role model and friend. She changed me for the better and I will greatly miss her.”
In 2018, after 10 years on the job, Hutchens retired, throwing her endorsement and support behind Barnes, who won election that year.
An avid cook, Hutchens’ retirement plans had included cooking in her new home in Riverside County, gardening and writing the novel she had set aside until she had more time.
“She was a leader whose ethics matched the culture of the men and women of this department,” Barnes said in his statement. “She restored our pride, gave us back our dignity and rebuilt trust with the people we serve. She kept her oath, kept her promises, and ended her time in office leaving this agency better than when she started.
“For me personally, she was a mentor and a friend. I will continue to be inspired by her commitment to always do the right thing, regardless of the consequences, and serve with the department and community’s interests first without need for self-recognition. I am tremendously grateful for the opportunities she presented me, and the many lessons I learned from her over the years.”
Barnes said he would request that the Board of Supervisors rename the Sheriff’s Department Training Facility in Orange after Hutchens and also authorized black bands to be worn by deputies through Jan. 11.
Read more about Hutchens and her tenure as Orange County Sheriff in the retirement story Behind the Badge wrote in January 2019.