Former San Mateo County Sheriff, Supervisor Don Horsley dies

Don Horsley, former sheriff and county supervisor

Daily Post Staff Writer

Retired San Mateo County Sheriff and Supervisor Don Horsley died Friday at age 80. 

“It’s the passing of one of San Mateo County’s true leaders,” District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told the Post. Horsley had been battling cancer for a number of years, Wagstaffe said. 

Horsley held elected office for nearly 30 years. He was sheriff from 1993-2007, then served on the Sequoia Healthcare District’s board from 2007 until being elected to the board of supervisors in 2010. 

Horsley was on the board of supervisors until December when he was termed out. Ray Mueller was elected to replace him. 

Wagstaffe said if the term limits were not in place, Horsley likely would have still been on the board. 

Horsley was born in San Francisco and grew up in Daly City, attending Westmoor High School. He then attended San Francisco State University, with plans of being a teacher. He was a middle school teacher and counselor for the San Mateo County probation department until getting a job as a police officer in Pacifica. He started his career with the Sheriff’s Office in 1972, working in patrol in East Palo Alto. Horsley steadily rose through the ranks and was tasked with planning the Maguire Jail in Redwood City. 

A community focus

Horsley is credited with changing the dynamics of the sheriff’s office from old-school policing to a more modern perspective by working with the community to gain trust in the sheriff’s office. For instance, he started the county’s Sheriff’s Activity League to help children in low-income communities to keep children out of trouble, according to the sheriff’s office. He also promoted women and minority officers to positions of leadership in the office. 

The current sheriff, Christina Corpus, was hired by Horsley. Corpus’ office put out a statement saying: “His legacy of service and dedication to our community will forever be remembered and cherished. We extend our heartfelt condolences to all those who knew and loved him.” 

“Don Horsley was an exemplary public servant and we are diminished by his loss. His contributions to our county and state will continue to bear fruit and for that we should all be grateful,” Assemblywoman Diane Papan posted on social media. 

‘Tireless public servant’

“This is a very sad day for San Mateo County. Don Horsley was a remarkable man and a tireless public servant who was always focused on helping the underserved. He was always there with advice (spend more time on the Coastside!), but was never pushy. I’m going to miss him,” Assemblyman Marc Berman posted on social media. 

Horsley, who was an Emerald Hills resident, is survived by his wife, Elaine and three adult children, Matthew, Christine and David. 


  1. So sorry to hear of Don’s passing. He was a dedicated public servant. His leadership as SMC’s Sheriff was instumental in reducing the murder rate in East Palo Alto at the time.

  2. Sheriff Horsley was a beacon of hope for us in East Palo Alto during the dark days in the late 0’s – early 90s. The City of East Palo Alto could only field about 3 officers per shift. Sheriff Horsley kept sending deputies to help us, protect us. I am eternally grateful to him, as are many others here, for his dedication, service, and care for our community. Tank you eternally, Sheriff. Thank you.

  3. I am deeply saddened to learn of Don’s passing. Don was my Jail Sergeant when I worked at the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office in the mid-1970s. He was the nicest, kindest person. We loved working for him. My heart goes out to Don’s family. Laurel (Beldner) Tremaine

  4. Don was truly a Trailblazer and not afraid to discuss the hard issues. He truly believed in all people and particularly the marginalized. I will always cherish those quiet conversations we had together and then those public courageous comments he would make to make things better for all people!

  5. RIP so very sorry to hear of the passing of DON HORSLEY, we grew up together on Westmoor Avenue. He lived a couple doors down from us. We would run into each other at different political events and parties. We always loved sharing memories. So was a wonderful man. He will be missed. Please let us know as to his services. Please and thank you. Our condolences to his family.

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