Shortly after his victory over incumbent Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane on Election Night, sheriff-elect Jeff Gahler said he plans to make significant personnel changes among the agency’s top positions.
“There will be major changes to the command staff,” Gahler said, as he accepted congratulations from a crowd of several dozen supporters at MaGerk’s in Bel Air Tuesday night.
Gahler claimed victory by a substantial margin, carrying 56 percent of the vote to Bane’s 44 percent. It was a marked reversal from four years earlier, when Bane narrowly defeated Gahler in the 2010 general election.
One of Gahler’s first personnel moves following his formal swearing-in on Dec. 1 will involve another face from that earlier campaign. Gahler told The Dagger that he will name Steven Bodway, one of three Republican candidates he defeated in the 2010 primary as his chief deputy and second-in-command. In that election, Gahler edged Bodway by just 64 votes, and later said Bodway would be a member of his command staff if Gahler was elected. This time around, Gahler said Bodway was an early supporter of his campaign.
“I said from the start I’d have Steve Bodway back in some capacity,” Gahler said. “It was between him and Eddie Hopkins for chief deputy.”
Hopkins was named Bane’s chief deputy, holding the rank of colonel, effective July 1 upon the retirement of Gregg Carlevaro. A Bel Air Town Commissioner and, at the time, chief of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, Hopkins rejoined the Sheriff’s Office as its public information officer in November 2012; he had retired from the agency several years earlier at the rank of lieutenant.
Gahler did not specify whether he intended to retain Hopkins within the agency in some other role, saying only that Hopkins’ future was “uncertain.” The position of chief deputy and the agency’s four majors, each of which heads a different bureau, are at-will employees.
Also, Gahler said he would name Michael Capasso as warden of the Harford County Detention Center. Capasso retired as a major in March 2012 after spending 25 years as a corrections officer at the facility. Capasso will replace former Maryland State Police Captain Charles Moore, who was named to the civilian position in June. Prior to his selection, the jail had been without a civilian warden since the retirement of Elwood DeHaven in November 2011.
In an August letter to The Dagger, Gahler said Capasso carried a firearm while in uniform outside of the Detention Center throughout his term of service, but that Bane “decided to disarm” Capasso the same month he retired. In the letter, Gahler said he would pursue handgun permits to allow corrections officers to carry firearms while traveling to and from their assignments. On Tuesday, Gahler said he would also move to change the corrections officers’ job description to that of correctional “deputy.” The distinction was the subject of a last-minute mailer over both Gahler and Bane’s use of signs claiming endorsements by the two unions representing Harford County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
First, however, Gahler said he will depart Sunday for a several-day vacation in Mexico, planned by his wife weeks before the election.
Gahler’s performance in the general election may be attributable, at least in part, to the success that Republicans across the county and nation experienced. From the start of the election, Gahler’s signs proclaimed him as the “Republican Candidate.”
“Without a doubt,” the surge of Republican voters played a role in his election, Gahler said. “It’s a strong Republican year. When you’re the party in power for eight years [Democrats], there’s a tide that turns against them.”
However, Gahler also credited the work of his campaign team and supporters.
“We earned this win.”
Bane did not return a call for comment Tuesday night, and a message left at his office on Wednesday was also not returned. On Tuesday, Gahler said he had not heard from the outgoing sheriff. Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Christie Kahler said Wednesday that she was not aware of any formal transition plan.
In a smaller, quieter room at MaGerk’s not far from Gahler’s celebration, Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly and a smaller group of supporters marked his election to a ninth term as the county’s top prosecutor.
Cassilly did not receive the endorsement of the Harford County Deputy Sheriff’s Union, whose members include the deputies tasked with law enforcement duties. Cassilly said their endorsement of his opponent, Cecil County prosecutor Steven Trostle, was based solely on Cassilly’s decision to prosecute Deputy First Class Christopher Behles for his role in a 2013 off-duty incident during which he fired his service weapon at a fleeing suspect’s vehicle.
On Tuesday, Cassilly was defiant, saying that while the deputies’ union may have refused to support him, others praised his willingness to prosecute a law enforcement officer. He added that some deputies also told him they did not agree with their union’s decision.
“I had deputies say they were embarrassed by the endorsement [of Trostle],” Cassilly said. “I’ve got 30 years of relationships with some of them.”
Gahler will be the eighth different sheriff whom Cassilly has worked with, and said he did not expect his office would encounter any difficulty in the transition.
“Law enforcement is still about getting the bad guys,” he said. “Management is management…but it’s still about making good cases.”