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'I did what I thought was right' | Ozzie Knezovich signs off as Spokane County Sheriff

Knezovich leaves as the second longest serving sheriff in Spokane County history.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — First appointed, then elected in 2006, Ozzie Knezovich would go on to become the second longest serving sheriff in Spokane County history.

"When my wife and I talked about should I do this job, I said, 'Well, if we do this, it's going to be all out,'" Knezovich said.

Knezovich was re-elected several times, but last year he says his wife was adamant that he not run again. They're now looking forward to a new chapter in Wyoming, being closer to family.

When asked about his legacy in Spokane County, Knezovich replied that he isn't concerned about being remembered for his efforts as sheriff.

"You know, I've never really worried about legacy," Knezovich said. "It's really not a concept that I've even thought about and here's why. Legacy is done by your actions. It's set by what you do." 

During his time as sheriff, Knezovich brought back Crime Check and formed an integrated communication center putting 911, law and fire dispatch under one roof at SRECC. He was also a driving force behind a regional law enforcement training center set to open next October.

"The only regret I have right now is Camp Hope still stands." Knezovich said.

Knezovich promised to clear the homeless camp by mid-November, but there wasn't much he could do after a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order.

"I didn't lose, folks," Knezovich said. "The community lost because you play politics."

Knezovich himself has been called out for being overly political and thin-skinned, posting Powerpoint lectures on the sheriff's YouTube page, often going after politicians and the media.

"Some people think, 'Oh, you just don't and he doesn't like media.' Absolutely not true," Knezovich said. "I think the media is very important. But, the media can't be biased. They have to tell it straight."  

Knezovich has also called out his own Republican party and even urged the FBI to investigate former state Rep. Matt Shea.

Knezovich says the radical right and left pose a real danger.

"The biggest threat to Spokane County right now is the lack of ability to bring people together," Knezovich said. "And it's not just Spokane County, that state nation." 

"I'm totally disgusted with both parties,"Knezovich continued. "Both the Democrats and the Republicans. It's not about us anymore. It's about dogma. It's about them winning. We can't allow the other side to win." 

Knezovich says crime remains a growing problem and one the county jail can't keep up with.

"We will continually re-release people that should be held in jail," Knezovich said.

Knezovich gave up control of the jail to county commissioners in 2013. He thought voters would be more likely to approve an expansion.

"It's kind of a cliché headline, 'Sheriff wants a bigger jail,'" Knezovich said. "Exactly. So, that's why I gave it back, the jail to the county commissioners was to take that off the table. It became a community issue at that point."  

County commissioners will ask voters this November to approve a 0.2% sales tax increase to build a new jail.

"I'm not in favor of the current plan," Knezovich said.

Knezovich believes they need to instead pass a bond and use the sales tax to expand pre-trial services and pay for more judges, prosecutors and public defenders.

"We do an outstanding job of arresting people," Knezovich said. "What we do as a system is a lousy job of holding people accountable."  

Accountability, Knezovich says, has been a north star during his time as sheriff But, at times his push for accountability has turned controversial. In 2019 Knezovich fired one of his seasoned deputies, Jeff Thurman, for allegedly using a racial slur directed at a black deputy. But, just last month, a jury ruled in favor of the fired deputy, awarding him nearly $20 million finding that Ozzie defamed him.

For his part, Knezovich says he's always tried to do the right thing.  

"I tend to let people do their jobs," Knezovich said. "If I have to come and start helping people do their job's I probably put the wrong person in the wrong place."  

During the final minute of 2022, Knezovich signed off for the last time.

"It's been a pleasure working with you," Knezovich said to members of the sheriff's office. It's been an honor serving with you. May God watch over you."

"All I can say is I gave every ounce I could to the community," Knezovich said. "I did what I thought was right. And for the majority of time, it worked out."  

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