Former Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens died Monday after a nearly decade-long battle with breast cancer, officials announced. She was 66.
Hutchens helmed the department more than 10 years after being appointed in 2008, taking over in a period of tumult following her predecessor Michael S. Carona’s indictment on federal corruption charges.
She was the twelfth sheriff to lead the department, but the first woman to hold the role.
Hutchens was first diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2012, but stayed on as sheriff until 2019.
“She courageously fought this disease while still leading this department. Her fight was successful for eight years,” current O.C. Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the cancer recently returned and Sheriff Hutchens passed [Monday] morning with her loved ones by her side.”
Hutchens is survived by her husband, Larry, according to the Orange County Register.
Hutchens also served as president of the Major County Sheriffs of America, an advocacy group representing law enforcement in the largest U.S. counties, a role in which President Donald Trump said she was “legendary” and “had great service.”
In his statement, Barnes praised Hutchens for putting the O.C. Sheriff’s Department “back on track” after the “public’s trust had been broken by the previous sheriff.”
Carona eventually served prison time after being convicted of witness tampering, and as Hutchens took over the department faced allegations of rampant jail abuse.
Barnes wrote that Hutchens “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.”
In 2017, Hutchens said she would not seek reelection as she faced pressure from an American Civil Liberties Union report alleging inhumane treatment in county jails — released shortly before Hutchens was to testify in a jailhouse informant scandal.
“There will always be some controversy that occurs in a law enforcement agency. I have faced storms before, and you know I don’t back down from a challenge,” Hutchens told the Los Angeles Times of her decision. “I am not stepping down from office. I will be here for 18 months.”
According to Barnes, Hutchens “bravely closed her life” with the same “courage, grace and dignity” with which she led the department.
“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,” he said. “Her legacy will endure for many years through all those she mentored and entrusted with helping her lead the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.”