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Tom Letras taking on Sheriff Christianson
Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Tom Letras, a 1990 graduate of Ceres High School, announced last week that he is taking on his boss, Sheriff Adam Christianson, in the 2014 election.

Letras, 39, made the announcement on Facebook and began his first week as an announced candidate by blasting Christianson as a bully who intimidates his employees. He said while his move may seem like "career suicide" to take on the boss, he feels he needs to step up to offer a choice.

"I've been very frustrated with the direction of the department under Adam," said Letras. "This is my way of doing something about it."

Letras was raised in Ceres. After graduating from Ceres High School he worked as a campus supervisor at Ceres High, and Mae Hensley and Blaker Kinser junior highs, then 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 bad in April, Letras volunteered to serve evictions.

Missing the leadership style of then-Sheriff Les Weidman, Letras said Christianson doesn't know how to work well with people.

"He very much runs the department with kind of like an iron fist and it wreaks havoc on the morale of the department," said Letras, who was born in Turlock.

He also charged that the sheriff has not managed the department's budget well. He is critical of how the sheriff downsized the department from 676 to 503 by last year. Those numbers have since increased to 579 due to over $2 million in savings and state money accompanying corrections realignment. Letras said Christianson didn't have to issue pink slips to employees as the department stashed a reserve.

"It's very frustrating to me that we've had all these layoffs and we came in under budget," said Letras. "To me it should be the last thing we do."

He accused Christianson of grandstanding during the Bob Paris tragedy when he said budget cuts frustrated him with not being able to protect the community. He said the sheriff's budget "didn't impact that particular incident."

"He'll make these comments on these budget cuts decimating public safety...yet again they're coming in under budget. Whatever budget I have I'm going to use and if I absolutely have to cut positions that's going to be the last thing I do."

Letras had been critical of Christianson's policy of requiring patrol deputies to report to satellite offices rather than headquarters, an action that upset rank and file deputies. The policy was later reversed when layoffs occurred.

Letras is critical of Christianson's personal interaction with employees, and said he is not buying the sheriff's explanation that lawsuits filed against him because the plaintiffs didn't want to be held accountable for their actions. Instead, he said the suits are "a result of not giving people dignity and respect."

Letras said he will be in the uncomfortable position of asking people for money to take on Christianson, and said it's "certainly the most difficult part, especially since running against a two-term incumbent." He pegs the amount needed at between $200,000 to $250,000.

Christianson has said he intends to run again. A second challenger could materialize in Tori Hughes, a department lieutenant acting as Patterson's police chief. In July Hughes testified at a civil trial that she heard her boss talk about a "limp, lame and lazy" list of injured workers. The sheriff later issued an apology for the remark.

Letras said he would continue the policy enacted by Christianson of giving out permits for concealed weapons permits for those who demonstrate knowledge of weapon safety and pass a background check. He said no one should "rely on government for personal safety." In fact, he said he wants to speed up the process from the current six months.