Dawanna Witt poses with her grandkids at her election night party at Wilde Cafe and Spirits in Minneapolis. Credit: Joey Peters | Sahan Journal

Dawanna Witt made history by becoming the first Black woman to be elected sheriff in Minnesota. 

Witt easily won election Tuesday night against opponent Joseph Banks to become Hennepin County sheriff. It’s the first time the county has elected a person of color as sheriff.

Witt had 64.5 percent of the vote with 90 percent of Hennepin County districts reporting Tuesday night. Banks, a former chief of rural and tribal police departments in Minnesota, earned about 35 percent of the vote.

“I’m so blessed I have all of these people that came to show their support for me,” Witt told Sahan Journal during her election night party. “This is something that I know that I need to do, something that I have a passion to do. I just want to do my best to make sure that I do my part in keeping Hennepin County safe.”

In January, Witt will take over the office that currently employs 830 people and runs the county jail, all court security in the county, the Hennepin County crime lab, and 911 dispatch for 25 of the county’s 45 cities. 

Witt, 48, is currently a major in the sheriff’s office and oversees the county jail and all court security. She has served in the position since 2019 after a 15-year career in numerous roles at the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office. 

Witt campaigned on her job experience and unique path to law enforcement. She grew up in south Minneapolis with family members who cycled through the jail. Witt became a mother at 15 and completed high school and college with the help of a social worker she says she’s still close to today. Witt said she shares many of the concerns community members have expressed about police violence against people of color.

“I never expected to see myself in law enforcement,” Witt told Sahan Journal last month. “I haven’t forgotten where I came from.” 

Witt pledged to continue a directive started by her predecessor that prohibits the county jail from sharing inmate information with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. She also promises to continue a drug treatment program that allows inmates to seek substance abuse treatment in jail.

Witt also made combating violent crime a top issue and said one of her first priorities will be to recruit 30 new licensed officers approved in the current budget.

Witt will replace Sheriff Dave Hutchinson, who has been on medical leave since May. Hutchinson, who narrowly defeated longtime Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek in 2018 on a progressive platform, had a rocky final year in office following a drunken driving rollover crash in December 2021. 

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...