Sheriff to retire in May

Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey speaks during a 2016 press conference. Downey said Thursday he would retire in May, after 31 years with the sheriff’s office.
Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey speaks during a 2016 press conference. Downey said Thursday he would retire in May, after 31 years with the sheriff’s office. Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard

Humboldt County Sheriff Michael Downey on Thursday announced he plans to retire this year.

Downey said his decision to retire before the end of his term as sheriff in 2018 was “bittersweet” but at 61, the sheriff felt it was the right time to hand over control of the office.

“I’ve worked hard at putting the agency together with good staff but it’s time for me to move on, move over and let the younger guys take over the agency,” Downey said. “My only regret is not finishing the term out.”

He plans to step down May 6.

Downey was first elected to the office in 2010, winning 67 percent of the vote against Michael Hislop — a career policeman who worked as the chief investigator at the District Attorney’s office, according to the county elections office. Downey won again in 2014 with 98 percent of the vote; he was the only candidate on the ballot.

A statement from the sheriff’s office said Downey is “humbled and honored to have served as the Sheriff of Humboldt County for the last 6 years.”

Downey said he started his career in law enforcement with the sheriff’s office 31 years ago. A Southern California native, Downey moved up to Humboldt in 1986 to work as a deputy.

Since then, he rose through the ranks, working as a sergeant and undersheriff. He has also raised six children and now has nine grandchildren.

Downey said some of his proudest achievements include straightening out the “bad budget” he inherited as sheriff and connecting on a promise to hire more deputies after voters approved Measure Z — a sales-tax measure that provided extra funds to law enforcement.

Overall, Downey said he felt county residents appreciated the changes he made during his time in office, adding deputies now have better equipment and are more active in the far reaches of the county.

“He has been a great mentor, a great friend and a real visionary on how he wants the sheriff’s office to operate,” Undersheriff Bill Honsal said.

Downey said he doesn’t plan to leave the county immediately and might even think about other ways to continue serving the community, although he hasn’t thought too much about life after retirement.

Downey said he is asking 44-year-old Honsal, who has worked as undersheriff for three years, to serve as the interim sheriff after he retires.

Honsal is a Humboldt County native who has worked for 22 years in law enforcement, including the Humboldt County District Attorney’s office and Humboldt State University’s campus police department.

Honsal said he hopes he’ll get to serve as interim sheriff during the year before the election. He also said he was “definitely interested” in running for sheriff next year.

“I’m prepared to step into his shoes,” Honsal said. “He has really big shoes to fill and he’s been a great sheriff but I’d be honored to potentially run for sheriff of Humboldt.”

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors is expected to appoint the interim sheriff about the time of Downey’s retirement, according to the sheriff’s office. Elections for sheriff will take place in June 2018.

Manny Araujo can be reached at 707-441-0509.