The two top elected law enforcement officials in Alabama’s second-largest county have announced their retirement effective next January.
Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich, 53, and Mobile County Sheriff, Sam Cochran, 67, both said on Monday that they would not run for a four-year term in 2022. Cochran confirmed his decision with AL.com, while Rich announced his retirement at a press conference at Government Plaza.
“I’m telling people I’ll be 68 and 48 by the end of this year,” Cochran said, referring to his age and longevity in law enforcement. “I’m not exhausted or anything. But do four more years? It is time for others to take the reins. It is time for me to do something else when I retire.
Rich said: “I am saddened to see him retire. I know there will be a lot of sad people to see me retire too. But there will be people who fill our shoes and work as hard as us and who have the passion and commitment that we make. “
Rich and Cochran are also backing Republican hopes as substitutes ahead of the May 24 primary. Rich said she supported Deputy Chief District Attorney Keith Blackwood, while Cochran supports Captain Paul Burch.
Cochran was with Burch on Monday as the two mingled in a meeting ahead of the Mobile County GOP executive committee meeting at the Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Burch currently oversees the Department’s Major Crime Detective Division.
“I shared with my staff at the start of this term that this would likely be our last year,” Cochran said. “They understood it well. Captain Burch is on my staff, and he knew it. He was interested in running for office and I encouraged him to run. He was one of my successes. We’ve solved every homicide we’ve had since 2016, which I think is an incredible mark. He’s a big part of it.
Rich said Blackwood will announce his candidacy next week.
“I wholeheartedly supported him to realize the vision I had during my tenure,” she said.
Retirement offers a rare opportunity for candidates to run for vacant district attorney and sheriff seats. Candidates have until January 28 to apply in this year’s election.
Rich won the last open seat race for District Attorney in 2010, when she was elected to replace retired District Attorney John Tyson Jr.
Cochran was appointed sheriff in June 2006 by the then governor. Bob Riley to fulfill the unexpired tenure of former Sheriff Jack Tillman, who resigned in April after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of perjury and breach of ethics. Cochran was then elected in November.
Of the two, Rich’s retirement is the more surprising. She had announced her intention to run again last fall and had started aadvertise their campaign. A re-election ad touted his experience as a “tough on crime” prosecutor who has sent killers to death row as a member of the district attorney’s murder squad since 2002.
But Rich, in an emotional press conference, said a change in state law allows him to retire with all the benefits. She said the new law, which came into effect in October, allows her to combine her 15 years of experience as a deputy district attorney with her 12 years as an elected district attorney.
“It had never been allowed before,” she said. “They were previous separate retreats.”
She said Alabama law, before the new parameters were put in place, required that an elected district attorney serve an 18-year sentence before accessing full retirement benefits.
“We were aware (of the new law) when they passed it,” said Rich, when asked if she was considering retiring early in her re-election campaign. “We didn’t know when it would come into effect. We did not know the parameters of when the new law would come into force. No one has yet retired under this new system.
Rich said she hoped she could continue working in the district attorney’s office as a district attorney, but added that she needed clarification from Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office first on how to proceed.
“I would love to do that, but this law is so new,” Rich said.
Cochran said he has no plans to return to the sheriff’s office once he retires. He has been an active voice over the past two months to oppose legislation that would prevent Alabama gun owners from purchasing concealed license to carry from sheriffs. In addition, he said he plans to be active in annexation efforts coordinated by the city of Mobile.
“If we grow up over those years, we would have a bigger tax base and the ability to spend on social ills and things of that nature,” Cochran said. “If you have a dying city everyone is a loser. “
Rich and Cochran have a combined 73 years of law enforcement experience.
Cochran, originally from Mobile, is a graduate of the McGill Institute and holds a BA and MA in Criminal Justice and Public Administration from the University of South Alabama. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
Cochran began his career as a Mobile Police Cadet and rose through the ranks over three decades. He 10 years – from 1996 to 2006 – as chief of the city police.
In 2006, Cochran was elected sheriff. He was re-elected in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
“I’ve been here and worked here my whole life,” Cochran said. “There isn’t a street that I haven’t come down to that I don’t have a history of.”
Cochran credited his tenure as police chief and sheriff with increasing the professionalism of agencies and making improvements within the prison. He said the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic have made prison operations difficult, noting that the latest wave of omicron has infected 60 to 70 inmates and 10 staff. None of them, he said, are “seriously ill”.
“The two to two and a half years have been the hardest in prison and that’s because of everything that strikes at the same time – overcrowding, COVID, shortage of employees, state refusal to take detainees,” did he declare. “It has become quite a challenge.
Rich has been a prosecutor for over 25 years, joining the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office in 1996. She credits her anonymous texting program for helping save the lives of young people. She also said that working with the Mobile County Public School System had helped address absenteeism issues and called the partnership between her office and the school system “incredibly productive and absolutely necessary.”
Rich said she takes pride in her office’s ability to support the family of a crime victim.
“The most important thing as a prosecutor is when you can turn around at the end of the trial and there’s a family sitting there and… I can look at them and say, ‘We did the best job. possible ”to do justice. Rich said. “And no matter what the outcome, we gave it our all and gave them some kind of peace by at least taking their case to a jury and letting a jury decide. For me, this is the greatest thing that we can as prosecutors (that we can offer) is hope and justice for victims. “