Maricopa County officials select Russ Skinner to serve as interim sheriff

Feb 8, 2024, 11:18 AM | Updated: 12:21 pm

Split image with a headshot of Maricopa County Interim Sheriff Russ Skinner on the left and a sign ...

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Deputy Sheriff Russ Skinner to serve as interim sheriff on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Photos)

(Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Photos)

PHOENIX – The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Deputy Sheriff Russ Skinner to serve as interim sheriff on Thursday.

Skinner, who has been serving as acting sheriff since Paul Penzone’s resignation went into effect Jan. 12, was one of three finalists for the position.

The Board of Supervisors also interviewed Glendale Police Lt. Patrick Valenzuela and Jeffrey Kirkham, a former Apache Junction commander and Nogales chief.

Skinner’s appointment was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the only Democrat on the board, opposing the pick.

“It’s truly an honor to serve the community and support our dedicated agency members in this new role,” Skinner said in a statement after the vote. “Unchanged, is my unwavering commitment to uphold the mission of safeguarding lives and property in Maricopa County, alongside MCSO’s best-in-class detention officers, sworn deputies, civilian employees and volunteers.”

How long has Jeff Skinner been with Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office?

Several supervisors cited Skinner’s experience with MCSO. He joined the agency in 1990 and has been chief deputy, overseeing all administrative duties and operations, since 2018.

Gallardo issued the following statement explaining his opposition:

The people of Maricopa County made it crystal clear in 2016: They were done with Joe Arpaio — done with the way he’d politicized the office, wasted money, put the county at legal risk, and unfairly and cruelly targeted communities of color. They voted for Democrat Paul Penzone because they wanted their trust in MCSO restored. I believe the former sheriff made important progress in his seven years in office, but there’s still a long way to go. Ultimately, voters will decide who leads this organization long-term.

In the meantime, I am willing to work with Sheriff Skinner to bridge the gap in trust that still exists, particularly in black and brown communities, and am hopeful he will be an engaged and committed partner in that effort.

Penzone stepped down with nearly a year left in his second term to take a community relations job with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“Building on Sheriff Penzone’s foundation, MCSO will continue providing professional law enforcement services and enhance our response to diverse public safety needs,” Skinner said. “I firmly believe and aspire while united with our community and partner agencies, MCSO can navigate Maricopa County’s dynamic growth, assuring a secure and thriving environment for all.”

The person appointed as interim sheriff was required under state law to live in Maricopa County and, like Penzone, be registered as a Democrat.

Eight candidates applied, including several with Republican backgrounds, including Skinner, who reportedly changed his party affiliation after Penzone announced his resignation in October 2023.

Top county official dispels concerns about party-switching issue

Chairman Jack Sellers addressed the party-switching issue during Thursday’s meeting.

“In my opinion, and in the opinion of a lot of the people that I talk to, law enforcment should not be a partisan, political position,” the Republican said. “And so we, as a group, really discounted that and looked to find who is absolutely the best candidate to run the county sheriff’s office during what could be a very contentious year.”

Sellers noted that the state’s largest county, which spans Phoenix and its surrounding suburbs, will be running three elections in 2024.

“We need someone who has the respect of the people in the county sheriff’s office and also the respect of the other law enforcement agencies in Maricopa County,” he said.

Voters will choose the next full-term sheriff in the November 2024 general election.

As of Thursday, the following six sheriff candidates had filed statements of interest to run this year: Republicans Frank Crawford, Jerry Sheridan, Joel Paul Franklin Ellis and Joe Melone, and Democrats Tyler Kamp and Kirkham, who was one of the interim finalists.

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Maricopa County officials select Russ Skinner to serve as interim sheriff