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A local woman ran for county sheriff in Tuesday’s primary election. Has a female ever been the top cop in Idaho?

Leah Madsen was one of four candidates running for Lemhi County Sheriff in the primary election. She lost by a narrow margin. | Alex Lemoing,
IDAHO FALLS – Eastern Idaho’s only female candidate for sheriff this year lost by a narrow margin during Tuesday’s primary election.
Leah Madsen, a detective for the Salmon Police Department and Lemhi County Commissioner, was one of four candidates running for Lemhi County Sheriff. Deputy John Bennett became the Republican nominee with 35% of the vote (997 total votes), but Madsen was a close second with 30% of the vote (861 total votes).
“I think there were so many of us running, it split the vote and it just happened to split the right way for John,” Madsen tells
Though the election is over, Madsen is still getting calls expressing support for her candidacy and she isn’t giving up yet. She’s looking to be a write-in candidate in November.
“It’s time for a female sheriff,” she says. “There’s never been a female sheriff here … and it’s time for that change. I have the strength to do it and the community to back me.”
RELATED | Four newcomers are vying to be the next Lemhi County sheriff
The idea of Madsen potentially being the first woman to serve as sheriff in Lemhi County got us wondering whether there’s ever been a female sheriff in Idaho? Or if there are any currently serving.
The Shoshone News-Press reports Holly Lindsey was appointed Shoshone County Sheriff in 2022 when the previous sheriff, Mike Gunderson, retired. She served as Gunderson’s undersheriff and has worked in law enforcement for many years.
Lindsey, a Democrat, will face her Republican opponent, David Hildebrand, in the November election.
Idaho’s first female sheriff
Patti Bolen, who served as Valley County’s sheriff for 18 years, was the state’s first female sheriff, according to Valley County Sheriff’s Office HR Director Michael Savoie.
Bolen could not be reached for comment, but Savoie tells Bolen was first elected in 2005 and retired last year.
“She felt like she’d been doing it long enough,” Savoie says.

Patti Bolen photo taken from Idaho Counties Risk Management Program

Savoie isn’t sure why Bolen decided to run initially, but she began her law enforcement career with Valley County as a deputy in 1974. She worked her way up the ranks and was working as a detective before she ran for sheriff.
One of Bolen’s most memorable cases as sheriff happened in August 2013. It involved a suspect who kidnapped a 16-year-old girl from California. The Columbian reports James Lee DiMaggio, the suspect, was eventually located near Morehead Lake about 80 miles north of Boise and fatally shot by FBI agents.
Authorities safely rescued the girl and returned her to her family.
“Cascade (a city in Valley County) became the investigative hub for that manhunt,” says Savoie. “Sheriff Bolen was heavily involved in daily conferences with FBI and other law enforcement officials.”
A historic look at female sheriffs nationwide
The National Sheriffs Association says there are less than 60 female sheriffs currently serving across the country. Historically, it’s a male-dominated position but numerous women have served in this role over the last century.
Myrtle Siler became the country’s first female sheriff in 1920. The Department of Homeland Security reports the 30-year-old woman served the people of Chatham County, North Carolina. She worked as a deputy eight years before that.
“Modest, unassuming and possessing all the graces that adorn the true Southern woman of culture, the new High Sheriff of Chatham stands as a worthy example of the woman of the new day,” a local newspaper reported at the time.

Myrtle Siler served as the nation’s first woman sheriff after working as a deputy sheriff for nearly a decade. | Courtesy ICE

Florence Thompson was sworn in as the Daviess County, Kentucky sheriff in 1936. A judge asked her to temporarily fill the role after her husband, who previously occupied the position, died of pneumonia two years after being elected. Though she had no previous law enforcement experience, her husband’s death left her with no source of income for her family.
“She rarely wore a uniform, but would sometimes wear a badge on her dress. She generally did not perform arrests but would do so when no one was available,” a historical article says.
Two months later, Thompson became the first female sheriff to oversee a capital punishment. Rainey Bethea, who was convicted of raping a woman, would be the last man nationwide to be publicly executed and it fell on Thompson to carry it out.
“As news of the hanging got around, she was bombarded with reporters,” the report says. “Journalists nicknamed Thompson ‘The Hangwoman.’”
RELATED | Idaho’s first lethal injection execution happened 30 years ago. A look back at it and other death penalty cases.
Thompson opted not to perform the execution, and offered the job to another police officer. She is reported to have fainted at the base of the scaffold when the hanging took place.
Voters later elected Thompson by a landslide to finish out her husband’s term. It was a three-way race and Thompson earned 9,811 votes. One competitor got two votes and the other got one. She didn’t seek re-election but served as a deputy under the next sheriff for nine years.
She remarried in 1944 and died of Parkinson’s Disease in 1961.

Florence Shoemaker Thompson was the first female sheriff in the U.S. to oversee a capital punishment. | Courtesy Wikipedia

County sheriff hopefuls
Brittany Herrera is one of the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office 18 female deputies. She is a shift supervisor at the jail and it’s her goal to run for sheriff one day.
With two parents and a grandfather who previously worked in law enforcement, Herrera says it’s a career path that’s in her blood. It’s something she was fascinated by at a young age and she’s happy to carry on the family tradition.
Male and female deputies go through the same training and Herrera appreciates the professionalism of her male colleagues in the sheriff’s office, but she says women bring some unique skills and qualities to the police force.
“Females offer good resolution skills. We’re really good at negotiating and (de-escalating) a situation without having to use aggressive force,” says Herrera.
Female deputies have a special ability to work with women and children in traumatic situations, she says, and can offer “a more nurturing approach.”
“There’s a different perspective women bring to law enforcement and to the sheriff’s office,” she says. “You can be a wife and a mother and a police officer. I’m grateful Bonneville County supports me in that.”

Sgt. Brittany Herrera, center, with two other deputies in 2019. | Courtesy Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office

Madsen has a similar perspective.
She was hired as a dispatcher for the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office in 2000 and later became the first patrol officer for the Salmon Police Department in 2007.
“Being able to make a difference in someone’s life when they’ve gone through something horrible … is what God put me here for. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing and I can’t give up on that,” says Madsen.
As the only female officer in Lemhi County, Madsen has nothing bad to say about the majority of her male colleagues but feels there are certain things women are better at than men in this capacity.
“I think we’re more articulate about things and … we’re connected in a different way than our fellow officers are,” Madsen explains.
She appreciates those who continue to support her and she’s determined to run for sheriff again in the future.

Courtesy Leah Madsen

The post A local woman ran for county sheriff in Tuesday’s primary election. Has a female ever been the top cop in Idaho? appeared first on East Idaho News.

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