Utah County Attorney David Leavitt loses reelection bid to Republican challenger Jeff Gray

Gray will be the next top prosecutor in Utah County, because there is no Democrat running.

(The Salt Lake Tribune) David Leavitt, left, and Jeff Gray, candidates for Utah County Attorney.

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt has lost his bid for reelection, saying Tuesday evening that he has conceded the race to Republican challenger Jeff Gray.

As of late Tuesday evening, Gray had received 73% of the votes so far, nearly 45,000 ballots, while Leavitt received 16,462 votes — just 27%.

This means Gray will be the next Utah County attorney, since there is no Democrat running for the top prosecutor job.

“I’m feeling great,” Gray told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday. “If these numbers hold up, which I think they will, it’s a great victory for Utah County and an astounding rejection of [Leavitt’s] weak on crime policies.”

Leavitt has made criminal justice reform the cornerstone of his tenure in office, while Gray took a more conservative position of the role of the top prosecutor. Gray, who currently works at the Utah attorney general’s office, has said he will hold criminals accountable and “charge them based on what the evidence supports.”

“I’m surprised by the decisiveness of it,” Leavitt said of Tuesday’s early numbers, “but I’m not surprised by the result. I’m grateful for what I’ve been able to accomplish. And I’ll serve the next six months and then be able to redefine my life.”

What will that look like for Leavitt?

“I have no idea,” he said. “I’m going to have a great time finding out.”

Leavitt has been unapologetic about his efforts to change the criminal justice system, telling The Salt Lake Tribune when he came into office in 2019 that he would reform the system — or fail trying.

He has cut down the number of felony cases his office has prosecuted and put in place a pre-filing diversion program where people arrested for minor, non-violent crimes can stay out of the criminal justice system and instead are connected to resources. Leavitt says he plans to continue moving away from offering plea bargains and taking more cases to trial.

But he has received vocal pushback from political opponents — former prosecutors, legislators and law enforcement officials — who have criticized his decision-making in the last four years, particularly the move to disband the special victims unit in 2020.

Voters may have also been swayed by the bizarre turn that this local county attorney race took earlier this month, after Leavitt held a news conference to deny allegations that he was involved in cannibalism or a ritualistic child sex abuse ring.

Leavitt called reporters to a news conference on June 1 to decry an investigation by the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, which had announced the day prior that it was investigating a ritual sex abuse ring. The sheriff’s office didn’t name Leavitt — or anyone else — as suspects, but the county attorney said his name was in an unverified witness report connected to the sheriff’s investigation.

Leavitt said he found the timing of the announcement suspicious since Sheriff Mike Smith has been at odds with him since he took office in 2019 and had endorsed his opponent in the race.

The sheriff denied the investigation was politically motivated.

Gray said Tuesday evening that he felt the early numbers were an indication that voters rejected Leavitt’s reform efforts, not about the sheriff’s investigation. “This is a rejection of his policies,” he said.

But Leavitt said the votes show him that “say-anything-you-want-to-win-at-all-costs tactics work in Utah County.”

“I think the result is absolutely a result of the misinformation campaign against me not only over the last month, but the last six months,” Leavitt said. “And if the people of Utah County understood what we are trying to accomplish, it would have been a different result.”

Gray had endorsements from several high-profile law enforcement officials, including Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, and the support of a PAC backed by the Utah Sheriffs’ Association, which has targeted Leavitt in the weeks leading up to the election.

Leavitt out-fundraised Gray, receiving more than $400,000 in campaign funds compared to Gray’s nearly $52,000. Much of Leavitt’s recent donations came from the Just Trust, a nonprofit organization that advocates for criminal justice reform and is largely funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Leavitt is in his first term as Utah County attorney. He had an unsuccessful bid for Utah Attorney General in 2020, where he lost in the primary against Reyes, and previously served as Juab County attorney for eight years in the late 1990s.

This was the first time Gray has run for public office. He said he felt compelled to do so after he believed many of Leavitt’s reforms have lost focus on victims and community safety.

Gray told The Tribune last month that if he is elected county attorney, he will make it a priority to reinstate the special victims unit, a group of prosecutors who handle sexual assault and domestic violence crimes.

He is also a supporter of the death penalty. Leavitt announced earlier this year that he won’t pursue a death penalty case as long as he is county attorney.

Gray said he will work to repair the Utah County Attorney’s Office’s strained relationships with law enforcement by meeting with police leaders regularly and training law enforcement officers to ensure investigations are being handled properly and convictions stick.

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