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Falls handily beats Winters

Ashland police Deputy Chief Corey Falls will be Jackson County's new sheriff after soundly beating incumbent Mike Winters Tuesday.

In returns released just before midnight, Falls was leading 77.13 percent to Winters' 22.5 percent, or 50,567 to 14,749 votes.

"We're excited by those results," Falls said by phone. "I had an incredible team that helped support me and moved me forward. I think it's also people hearing our message that we're going to be open and transparent."

Winters did not return repeated phone calls from the Mail Tribune Tuesday.

Falls said his first priority in office is going to be meeting with sheriff's department employees and the Sheriff's Employee Association, whose membership has been fiercely critical of Winters' leadership.

"Just starting to build those relationships," Falls said.

Winters dropped his bid for re-election in early October, saying he supported Falls as the next sheriff of Jackson County. But the announcement came too late take his name off the ballot. Winters told local media outlets he’d serve another four years if voted back in.

Falls has been the clear frontrunner since beating Winters and fellow challenger Bob Sergi in the May primary. Sergi, a former sheriff’s jail lieutenant and SWAT team member, was the subject of an Oregon Department of Justice investigation into his alleged use of an agency roster to solicit campaign funds. Sergi was eventually cleared by investigators but fired by Winters.

Winters has faced criticism from both inside and outside the sheriff's department over his use of department resources, including a $450,000 annual contract with Brim Aviation for use of the company’s helicopters for SWAT team marijuana eradication operations and search and rescue.

Winters told the Mail Tribune last week that all but $90,000 of the contract payments were reimbursed through grants and other outside sources.

Falls has questioned whether the marijuana eradication operations, which have crossed into neighboring counties and Northern California, are a prudent use of agency resources with staffing levels stretched thin. 

Forced releases from the Jackson County Jail were also an issue in the campaign, with Falls arguing that bed space should be prioritized for local offenders, rather than rented out to federal agencies.

Winters has staunchly defended his record, citing a major jail expansion and a new headquarters and tactical operations center on state Highway 62 among his accomplishments, but he told the Mail Tribune he had been worn down by constant criticism.

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.

Corey Falls