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Cerean takes on boss
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Sheriffs Deputy Tom Letras of Ceres pays for filing fees to run for sheriff at the Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters office on Monday afternoon. Assisting the candidate is clerk Kathy Styles. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Tom Letras, a 1990 graduate of Ceres High School, filed papers on Monday to run for sheriff against incumbent Sheriff Adam Christianson, his boss.

"I plan to bring common sense and solid leadership back to the Sheriff's Department," said Letras, a 41-year-old 17-year law enforcement veteran.

Outside the county Registrar of Voters office in downtown Modesto, Modesto was buoyed by his parents, Jim and Cathy Letras of Ceres, for moral support. Letras admits that he's the underdog in the race and agreed with his mother who drew biblical parallels to the battle between David and Goliath.

"You're talking about running against a two-term incumbent sheriff," said Letras. "I'm not going to be able to raise the amount of funds that an incumbent sheriff is going to raise to run a campaign. It's about going out to as many people as I can. How do you get your message out without money? You're gonna have to go and burn some shoe leather and be out walking and talking and be as many events as I can."

Letras helped on the failed campaign of Rob Jackson who tried to defeat Christianson four years ago.

"There's nobody else who was really willing to stand up and go up against him. He can be very difficult. We've had a lot of problems with our department and the services we're providing and these lawsuits we've had that has caused almost $10 million that our taxpayers have absorbed. These things that should be important to all of us, how much is the department costing the taxpayers in avoidable lawsuits?"

Letras announced his intent to run in September 2012 and blasted Christianson as a bully who intimidates his employees. He said the department lacks leadership, and suffers from low morale. He mostly recently criticized Christianson for allowing the use of the department helicopter for a private fundraiser in which golf balls were dropped from the air in Calaveras County.

"I don't want to attack the charity or the people who put it on - it's a great thing - but where do we draw the line as far as what kind of fundraisers the department is going to (support.)"

"We have a serious lack of leadership in the department," asserted Letras. "We need to find a way to work closer with our employees and with the community to provider better services. I think leadership stops at the top and we need someone who can lead with compassion and energy."

Letras began his career in 1997 after being hired by Sheriff Les Weidman to work as a custody deputy in the Sheriff's detention facilities. Letras has served as the Public Information Officer (PIO), a patrol deputy, gang detective, and many other assignments.

Raised in Ceres, Letras graduated from Ceres High School and then worked as a campus supervisor at CHS, and Mae Hensley and Blaker Kinser junior highs. He joined the Sheriff's Department's jail custody division in 1997. He served a while as a public information officer in 2001. He became a patrol deputy in 2005 after attending the academy and for 18 months served as a gang detective until the department's gang unit was dissolved because of budget issues. Letras' job then took him to transporting inmates. When Deputy Bob Paris was murdered during a Modesto eviction attempt gone awry in April 2012, Letras volunteered to serve evictions.

Christianson has said he intends to run again. A second would-be challenger to Christianson did not materialize in Tori Hughes, a department lieutenant acting as Patterson's police chief. In July 2012 Hughes testified at a civil trial that she heard Christianson talk about a "limp, lame and lazy" list of injured workers. The sheriff later issued an apology for the remark.