I grew up in low-income apartments in Kent, blocks away from a justice center that would later house some of my childhood friends. As a young adult, I survived my own police brutality experience with the Minneapolis Police Department. Empowered by my lived experiences, I have made it my mission to help reform our justice system locally.

Against this backdrop, I was thrilled when King County voters made clear that we need a stronger commitment to accountability and oversight in law enforcement when they voted in November 2020 to make the sheriff an appointed position rather than elected. Today, King County Executive Dow Constantine and the county council have a unique opportunity to select and confirm a “new sheriff in town.” But for this new sheriff to bring the type of change needed, we must demand that they truly embody a new perspective to this solemn mandate for reform.

As a Black man, I think we should all celebrate the fact that after a nationwide search all three finalists for the job are Black: Interim Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall; Charles Kimble, chief of police in Killeen, Texas; and Reginald Moorman, a major in the Atlanta Police Department.

Now is the time to collectively heal from the wounds of our legacy system of electing a sheriff — one in which police unions had an outsized influence in thwarting reform efforts. The same system that — in the wake of a botched sting operation resulting in the officer-involved killing of Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens — allowed former Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht to let so many sensible recommended changes from an independent expert to “die on the vine.”

By the end of Johanknecht’s tenure as sheriff in 2021, community groups, elected leaders, and even the union that represents sheriff’s deputies had called for her ouster. It was a rare moment of unity involving such a delicate issue as justice reform.

To be successful, our new sheriff must be a strong collaborator, eager to partner closely with Executive Constantine, the county council, the civilian Office of Law Enforcement Oversight and impacted communities. They must also work tirelessly to transform the culture of policing from a warrior to a guardian mindset. Above all, our new sheriff must be a proven change agent.


However, with all due respect to Interim Sheriff Cole-Tindall, in the absence of additional explanation, it’s difficult to understand how someone who has been so deeply affiliated with the sheriff’s office over the last six-plus years can be the change agent we need in this moment, particularly when she served for the last two years as former Sheriff Johanknect’s hand-picked No. 2 in charge. Before that, Cole-Tindall served in senior roles on the former sheriff’s influential “command staff” comprised of the sheriff’s most trusted advisers and division heads. Yes, former Sheriff Johanknecht bears ultimate responsibility for the actions and inactions of her office. But let’s not forget that Cole-Tindall bears penultimate responsibility as the sheriff’s second in command.

Cole-Tindall previously expressed discomfort with “second-guessing the decisions” of her former boss and predecessor. However, it is reasonable for us to ask her to not only second-guess those decisions, but also tell us what she specifically would have done differently. Aggrieved communities deserve answers to these questions and more.

To be clear, Cole-Tindall deserves fair and thoughtful consideration during this process like the other two candidates. But given her longstanding ties to the local systems we’re trying to reform, the public is owed specific explanations as to how she can be an effective change agent now. Without this, the mandate of reform in the sheriff’s office passed by voters in November 2020 will be unsuccessful.