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Sheriff hopefuls square off in last forum

  • Sheriff Patrick Cahillane, left, Caitlin Sepeda, middle, and Yvonne Gittelson, the three candidates running in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary for Sheriff of Hampshire County, give their opening statements during a forum Thursday night at the Northampton Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Sheriff Patrick Cahillane, from left, Caitlin Sepeda and Yvonne Gittelson, the three candidates running in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary for Hampshire County sheriff, give opening statements during a forum Thursday night at the Northampton Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Sheriff Patrick Cahillane, front, Caitlin Sepeda, middle, and Yvonne Gittelson, the three candidates running in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary for Sheriff of Hampshire County, give their opening statements during a forum Thursday night at the Northampton Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • The three candidates running in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary for Sheriff of Hampshire County give their opening statements to a packed house during a forum Thursday night at the Northampton Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Sheriff Patrick Cahillane gives his opening statement during a forum for the three candidates running in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary for Sheriff of Hampshire County on Thursday night at the Northampton Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Yvonne Gittelson gives her opening statement during a forum for the three candidates running in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary for Sheriff of Hampshire County on Thursday night at the Northampton Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Caitlin Sepeda gives her opening statement during a forum for the three candidates running in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary for Sheriff of Hampshire County on Thursday night at the Northampton Center for the Arts. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE



Staff Writer
Monday, September 05, 2022

NORTHAMPTON — The three candidates running in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary for sheriff of Hampshire County faced off in their final forum on Aug. 25 at the Northampton Center for the Arts, answering questions before a packed house about their ideas, goals and campaign trail criticisms of one another.

Sheriff Patrick Cahillane, a Leeds resident, is running for his second six-year term against Yvonne Gittelson and Caitlin Sepeda, both of whom worked for his administration. Gittelson was the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction’s education coordinator from 2017-21, while Sepeda was a corrections nurse there for nine years until she took a nurse position in the Berkshire County jail last October.

The sheriff’s department, with its seven divisions including civil process service, oversees the Northampton jail and associated programs with a roughly $15 million budget. The winner of the Democratic primary will not face a Republican opponent in the Nov. 8 general election.

Cahillane started his corrections career at the now-closed Union Street Jail in 1977 and has worked at the 205 Rocky Hill Road facility for 35 years. He has served as a major, captain, deputy superintendent and special sheriff of Hampshire County.

Gittelson, a resident of Goshen and now the corrections program specialist for the state education department, has made education a central pillar of her campaign, citing studies that show a sharp drop in recidivism among those who earn high school equivalency and advanced degrees while incarcerated. She has called for expanding the educational offerings for pretrial detainees.

Sepeda, a resident of South Hadley, has promoted her experience responding to the COVID-19 pandemic while criticizing Cahillane for taking the first vaccine dose provided to the jail, which he said was suggested by medical staff. Sepeda referred to herself as “instrumental” in the facility’s opioid treatment programs during the first candidate forum in Easthampton on Aug. 4.

The forum was sponsored by the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Amherst and Northampton chapters of the League of Women Voters.

Suspicious incident

The forum took on the same day Barbara Marean resigned as deputy superintendent of the jail, one day after the Gazette reported that her name appeared in a Southampton police report involving a suspicious vehicle at the home of another jail employee earlier this month. The resignation was not made public until Friday, one day after the candidates forum.

On Wednesday, the Gazette reported on two police reports filed by the Southampton Police Department earlier this month. A jail employee and his wife alleged that a woman in a black Ford SUV stopped outside their house on two occasions and took cellphone pictures of their yard, where they display a sign in support of Sepeda.

According to one report, the employee told police that on Aug. 9, the day after the first incident, he saw the same vehicle in the jail parking lot and “the operator was Barbara Marean,” deputy superintendent of the jail.

Cahillane has since denied any knowledge of the incident and has launched an outside investigation into it.

At the forum, Sepeda said the tenor of the campaign is “disappointing” and changed for the worse after the article’s publication.

“It became abundantly clear to the public this week” that “scare tactics and blatant acts of intimidation of staff in the name of loyalty reign supreme” in the facility, Sepeda claimed. “The sheriff says he’ll do an external investigation. When? After Sept. 6?”

“This is ugly. This is dirty. This is the politics we hear about,” Sepeda said at another point. “Do not run for office. This is disgusting.”

“I won’t protect friends who cross legal or ethical lines,” Gittelson said during her opening statement, advancing her campaign theme of transparency and accountability for leadership.

Cahillane accused his challengers of spreading “misinformation” to voters since the race kicked off and said “there has not been 100% transparency on behalf of my opponents in this election” about their “work history.”

Differences of opinion

Cahillane said he guided the sheriff’s department through the worst pandemic in modern times, expanded the Nurturing Fathers parenting education program and touted his professional certifications and accreditations, like the fact that he is the only certified jail manager in the race.

Sepeda said the jail’s response to COVID-19 was “varied” and leadership should have better prioritized the needs of front-line workers. Gittelson said the department was not prepared and did not disseminate information well.

Cahillane disagreed, calling the response “successful.”

“Nobody died on my watch and I will always be proud of that,” Cahillane said. “I took care of the staff and I took care of the inmates.”

Gittelson said she is a “tightwad taxpayer” and the most proficient candidate on the topics of LGBT rights and diversity, equity and inclusion.

The three candidates agreed that they would not assist the efforts of federal Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents if elected, a continuation of the status quo.

Sepeda said there was “very little in the way of” education or mental health services when she worked at the jail, and, “As far as substance abuse treatment goes, not a lot.”

Inmates pay 14 cents per minute to use a jail phone and the facility receives a cut of the money; Sepeda and Gittelson said they support free or at least cheaper calls. Cahillane said inmates can make Zoom calls, free phone calls are offered once per week and some of the higher costs are related to necessary security measures.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.