The Kern Law Enforcement Association plans to hold a vote to consider withdrawing its endorsement of Chief Deputy Justin Fleeman in the race for Kern County Sheriff.
The KLEA ballot, obtained by 17 News, reads in part “Due to the divisiveness and negativity that is occurring in the wake of KLEA’s endorsement of Fleeman for Sheriff, a petition to withdraw our endorsement for the office of Sheriff was brought to the KLEA board by a quorum of members at the last board meeting.”
The ballot continues, “Many of our members have signed a petition requesting our endorsement be rescinded and remain neutral.”
KLEA endorsed Fleeman in March, according to a press release, rather than current Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
Throughout the campaign, Fleeman has touted the endorsement of several law enforcement and public safety unions including KLEA, the largest in the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
In an interview, Fleeman said this decision does not reflect how deputies truly feel about the sheriff’s race.
“Does it hurt my feelings that they did that? It doesn’t,” said Fleeman adding leaders in the department have pressured deputies to sign the withdraw petition.
“I understand, it’s self-preservation. They’re trying to make sure that they take care of themselves … if you talk to anybody who works there, they know I’m not going to be vindictive, not going to retaliate against them,” continued Fleeman.
In a phone interview, Sheriff Youngblood said it was “encouraging” to see KLEA members show “integrity and ethics” in bringing forward the re-voting effort, but he is under no illusion that an attempt to withdraw Fleeman’s endorsement is a signal of support for Youngblood.
Responding to Fleeman’s charges deputies might be intimidated by senior management to try to recall the endorsement, Youngblood said Fleeman is “being dishonest.” Youngblood said he has not seen any high ranking deputies pressure anyone.
In a statement, KLEA President David Kessler wrote, “KLEA is responding to a request from our membership to review our endorsement for Sheriff. Out of respect for the Sheriff candidates and our membership, we are unable to comment further until this internal process is complete.”
KLEA members are asked to vote by Friday, May 18.
We’ll have much more on this story at 17 News at 5.