The San Diego county sheriff race is getting ugly in the final 13 days before the June 8 primary.

Deputy Sheriffs’ Association board members who support Sheriff Bill Gore staged a coup today, ousting their second-term president, Ernie Carrillo, an ardent supporter of Gore’s opponent, Jim Duffy.

“They didn’t like the fact that I was out stumping for our endorsed candidate,” Carrillo said, referring to Duffy, who was endorsed last year before pro-Gore board members were elected, shifting the board’s balance of power.

Pro-Gore forces gained new seats, and a 5-4 majority in January, and immediately made a big power play by voting to spend a paltry $3,000 on Duffy, and then under pressure added more for a total of $20,000 spent on Duffy.

The pro-Duffy board had expected to spend tens of thousands more than that.

“It’s a big deal. I don’t remember a coup like this with the deputy sheriffs in the past 20 years,” said political consultant John Dadian, who is not involved in this race but has handled the independent expenditure campaign on behalf of the DSA in previous sheriffs races.

The change in DSA leadership has serious implications for the race if no candidate wins outright with more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, Dadian said.

“Clearly the Gore supporters have taken control of the board. If the general election is a Gore/Duffy runoff this opens the possibility of the association changing their endorsement. All it takes is a vote of the board,” he said.

Candidates clamor for the endorsement of the powerful and wealthy Deputy Sheriffs’ Association — particularly sheriff candidates – because the association typically spends relatively large sums on behalf of its anointed ones. But this time, with strife on the board, the union has spent very little. Still, the endorsement is considered golden because endorsees can claim to be the “law-and-order” candidates.

The union sent out a press release noting Carrillo was removed by a 5-0 vote and thanking him for his service. It did not give a reason for his dismissal.

Carrillo said he was told his ouster was based on a “lack of leadership and direction.” But he said he has worked very hard on behalf of members with no complaints until now, and he is sure the reasons are political.

Carrillo said some board members were unhappy that he was traveling around the state, urging California’s largest law enforcement unions to support Duffy financially since the DSA failed to step up. And, Carrillo said, pro-Gore board members were displeased with remarks Carrillo made at public forums that criticized Gore for a lack of diversity among his command staff.

Of 13 members of Gore’s command staff, there is one African American and two women. The rest are white males.

Sheriff’s Lt. Hank Turner, a Gore supporter, is the vice president and will serve as interim president. He said a majority of the board lost confidence in Carrillo in part because he focused too much on the election and neglected other responsibilities. He declined to be more specific.

“There’s been some issues between some members of the board and Ernie and they’ve been going on a while,” Turner said. “What it comes down to is, I’m not going to publicly thrash Ernie. I don’t think Ernie has the support of the majority of the board.”

Turner denied the removal was political, saying it would have no impact on the election because the new president would not be chosen until after the June 8 primary, and the board is still intact, with the same members having a vote.

“I find it interesting and comical that this is what it’s made to be when the primary election’s over and done with — the endorsement’s been made, the money’s been spent. This really has no impact on it,” he said.

Carrillo, who was working full time as DSA president, will return to the streets and work as a deputy. He doesn’t know what his assignment will be.

“They got their wish,” he said. “It’s part of politics, the ugly side. I’m a firm believer I was doing the best that I could.”

Carrillo said he believes the political wrangling of board members does not mean there is a deep divide among members of the department about whom to support for sheriff. He said the DSA membership overall still favors Duffy.

Duffy, a former DSA president, said he was very concerned that the move was pure politics.

“As a member of the Deputy Sheriffs Association, I would like to know the rationale behind removing a president midterm,” Duffy said. “If it’s not for egregious misconduct, then it smells of political influence. He’s been there for two and a half years, the new board folks get in there, and suddenly now he has a lack of leadership?”

Unlike most law enforcement unions, the DSA board allows supervisors to serve on its board. Of the five pro-Gore directors, only one is a deputy. The other four include a captain, a lieutenant, and the two recently elected members are sergeants. The Duffy supporters, including Carrillo, are deputies.

Contact Kelly Thornton directly at kellythornton7407@yahoo.com. And follow her on Twitter @kellymthornton.

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