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Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown is apparent winner in runoff race against Lupe Valdez

Sheriff Marian Brown speaks to the cadets during the Dallas County Sheriff’s Academy class graduation Friday, March 15, 2024, at George Allen Civil Court Building in Dallas.
Yfat Yossifor
Sheriff Marian Brown speaks to the cadets during the Dallas County Sheriff’s Academy class graduation in March. She racked up a significant lead over former Sheriff Lupe Valdez in Tuesday's runoff election.

Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown appears to have won her runoff race against Lupe Valdez, her former boss.

With all voting centers reporting, unofficial final results showed that Brown had almost 69 percent of the votes in the sheriff's race.

No Republicans ran for sheriff in the primary, so whoever comes out ahead in the Democratic runoff is the presumptive winner in the November general election.

Brown became Dallas County's first African American sheriff in 2018 when Valdez left to run for governor. Valdez was the county's first Hispanic and openly gay sheriff.

Both of the Brown and Valdez were groundbreakers in law enforcement.

Brown is the county’s first African American sheriff and among the nation’s few African American female sheriffs.

Valdez is the first woman and Hispanic elected sheriff in Dallas County, and the country’s first openly gay, Hispanic sheriff. Before she was elected, Dallas County had been considered a Republican stronghold — almost the opposite of what it is today.

Two years after Valdez was elected in 2004, Dallas County elected Craig Watkins, its first Black district attorney, and Jim Foster, its first openly gay county judge, as the Democratic Party's power grew.

A recurring theme in both campaigns was the Dallas County Jail — who could do the best job of running it.

The sheriff runs the state’s second biggest county jail -- 9th biggest in the country.

Lew Sterrett Justice Center is fully run and funded by Dallas County employees and elected officials, unlike larger Harris County and many others around the state.

The sheriff is also responsible for policing unincorporated areas throughout Dallas County and works with county commissioners to budget needs and improvements.

The jail often holds more than 6,000 people waiting adjudication and provides medical and mental health care from the Parkland Health system, as well as rehabilitation and reintegration programs. It can hold up to 7,100 people.

The average cost per person held in the jail is about $85 a day — a total of $16-17 million dollars per month to operate.

Brown has said that maintaining that care and improving those programs and adjudication are top priorities.

She said keeping good staff and recruiting more is also at the top of her list.

Valdez said she cleaned up the jail once before and she can do it again.

Earlier this year, Dallas County’s jail passed a weeklong, surprise state inspection for the first time in years.

The annual Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection also revealed shortcomings.

The jail's West Tower, the oldest in the compound, doesn't have overhead sprinklers or fire hoses — Dallas County's fire marshal in 2010 had allowed extinguishers instead. The state said to replace the sprinklers or fire hoses.

Inspectors noted extinguishers the marshal had allowed were noncompliant. So jail administrators shared a 2023 letter from the fire marshal explaining that the state-mandated fire extinguishers would be replaced with the non-carcinogenic dry powder type.

The county recently paid a $100,000 federal civil rights lawsuit settlement after keeping a man jailed after a judge said he had served his time. Chris McDowell’s lawyer blamed the new software.

The county also settled for $60,000 with Ryan Harris, who’d been held in jail for too long after his release date last year. His lawyer said missing paperwork, not software, caused the problem.

Commissioners are considering building a new, modern jail for about $3 billion dollars — $5 billion adjusted for the year 2032.

When Brown and Valdez debated at a a Dallas Democratic Forum Sheriff Debate in April, Brown raised questions about her opponent's management style.

She related that an author writing a book about Valdez asked how her onetime boss had run the department.

“She said, ‘I am hearing that the department was like latchkey kids. That the department was left to fend for itself while the sheriff went to the parties went to the celebrations went to the various events where they were partying, but everybody at the department had to figure it out for themselves.’ She asked me did I agree with that and I said yes, I do agree.”

Valdez rejected that narrative and said she engaged with the community and saw that as a priority for a strong department.

“A person's first time seeing a law enforcement officer shouldn't be when the law enforcement officer is coming to perform one of their warrants or do one of the challenges that they have,” she said.

Got a tip? Email Marina Trahan Martinez at You can follow Marina at @HisGirlHildy.

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Marina Trahan Martinez is KERA's Dallas County government accountability reporter. She's a veteran journalist who has worked in the Dallas area for many years. Prior to coming to KERA, she was on The Dallas Morning News Watchdog investigative and accountability team with Dave Lieber. She has written for The New York Times since 2001, following the 9/11 attacks. Many of her stories for The Times focused on social justice and law enforcement, including Botham Jean's murder by a Dallas police officer and her subsequent trial, Atatiana Jefferson's shooting death by a Fort Worth police officer, and protests following George Floyd's murder. Marina was part of The News team that a Pulitzer finalist for coverage of the deadly ambush of Dallas police officers in 2016.