Spokane County appoints new sheriff

SPOKANE – Spokane County has a new sheriff who was once considered to be a long shot candidate virtually unknown outside local law enforcement.

Ozzie Knezovich was named the 25th sheriff of the county on Tuesday following a grueling and contentious appointment process. He will fill out the term of Mark Sterk, who retired.

In making the choice, county commissioners – all Republicans – rebuked their party and Sterk. Sterk wanted Spokane Valley Police Chief Cal Walker to succeed him.

In November, Republican precinct committee officers voted to endorse Walker. Tuesday’s unanimous decision was made in a courthouse hallway after commissioners had met for hours behind closed doors.

Knezovich, 43, was sworn in immediately after the decision while Walker and Lt. Jim Finke, another candidate for sheriff, watched.

Knezovich will be in charge of the department at least until the end of the year, when Sterk’s second term would have ended.

When a vacancy appears in a partisan office in Washington, the party of the vacating official recommends three people to county commissioners to complete the term.

Knezovich has worked in the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for a decade, but in the contest to be sheriff he ran as an outsider, declaring the need for more openness and proposing department shifts to promote community policing.

Walker argued that his work as Spokane Valley chief and close ties to area law enforcement officials would bring stability to the department.

Finke ran for sheriff against Sterk in 1998.

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