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Appelhans wins close race, becoming the first Black man ever elected sheriff in Wyoming

Albany County Sheriff Appelhans
Courtesy of Albany County
Sheriff Aaron Appelhans was appointed to the office in 2020. He won his first general election Tuesday, defeating challenger Joel Senior in a close race.

Albany County's sheriff, Democrat Aaron Appelhans, will keep his seat as the county's top cop following a very close general election. He earned 52 percent of the vote to beat Republican challenger Joel Senior.

This was Appelhans' first election and it makes him the first Black man ever elected sheriff in the state of Wyoming.

Former sheriff Dave O'Malley resigned from his post in late 2020, following public outcry in the wake of a police shooting.

When O'Malley left, the county appointed Appelhans to replace him. Appelhans promised to turn the office around. He fired or ousted several problematic officers, started hiring more women and minorities, and pushed for more mental health training for his deputies.

But also under his watch, the jail saw three inmate deaths — two from suicide and one from a fatal overdose. Appelhans did not inform the public about any of these deaths when they occurred and most county residents only learned of the deaths when they became a debate topic this election cycle.

Senior, who got 48 percent of the vote, said he would bring professionalism, leadership and transparency to the Albany County Sheriff's Office. He committed in public statements to publishing the office's budget and policies online if elected.

Senior had claimed sheriffs have the power to enforce laws selectively and refuse to enforce the laws they deem unconstitutional. This stance puts Senior in line with the so-called Constitutional Sheriffs movement — a nationwide movement with ties to extremist groups like the Oath Keepers.

Senior has disavowed the group, but stands by its core tenet. Appelhans explicitly rejected both the group and the idea, arguing a sheriff has to enforce all laws equally.

Appelhans said his goals moving forward include reducing traffic fatalities and improving his office's mental health crisis response.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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