Longtime West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes weathered a turbulent year that included multiple high-profile incidents and won a fifth term in office Saturday night with a narrow victory.
Backed by a significant fundraising advantage and crucial support in the parish’s population centers, Cazes, a 63-year-old Democrat, defeated Democratic challenger Mike Zito. Complete but unofficial results show that Cazes won by 242 votes out of 11,228 cast.
Cazes touted his tenure as a veteran lawman and his lifetime working in law enforcement as a reason why voters should extend his 16 years leading the parish's top law enforcement agency ahead of election day.
The race saw mending community trust emerge as a top issue on the campaign trail after the fatal shooting of a Port Allen man by a deputy in July, the malfeasance conviction of another sheriff's deputy and frequent escapes from the local jail.
Cazes also had to contend with allegations that he paid an inmate to perform personal work on his home, which prompted a state investigation that found no criminal violations.
Community members have also pushed for greater transparency from the Sheriff’s Office following the July death of Josef Richardson, 38, who was shot in the back of the neck by sheriff's Deputy Vance Matranga Jr. during a "no-knock" narcotics raid of the Port Allen man’s motel room.
Richardson’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit and called for a federal investigation into the shooting. State Police are still reviewing the case.
Zito, ahead of the election, criticized Matranga being allowed to return to work in a limited capacity, saying it could stir further unrest in the community.
He pushed for improving public trust by focusing on community policing and holding events aimed at connecting deputies to the community. But Cazes said on the campaign trail he also is angling to do the same.
Candidates' path to Saturday's runoff saw them finish atop a four-man ballot during the October primary, in which no candidate mustered more than 50% of the vote.
Cazes held a significant lead over his challengers in the primary election. The incumbent sheriff secured roughly 43% of the vote in last month’s primary, while Zito scratched just less than 25% of support.
Zito, 65, lagged far behind in fundraising. Cazes’ campaign raised $97,000 — mainly by drawing money from donors outside of the parish — compared with Zito's $7,500, according to campaign finance reports.