Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich is criticizing state Rep. Matt Shea for visiting with armed protesters who have seized a federal office in Oregon.
“I just can’t fathom it,” Knezovich said Tuesday.
Protestors occupied a building Jan. 2 and have said they won’t leave until the federal government turns over grazing lands it manages to local authorities.
Harney County Sheriff David Ward has asked the protesters to stand down. Dwight and Steve Hammond, the two ranchers who were convicted of arson for their role in setting fire to grazing lands and who were originally cited as the catalyst for the protest, have also distanced themselves from the standoff.
Knezovich said he’s read reports on social media indicating local law enforcement and the FBI urged Shea, a Spokane Valley Republican, and other lawmakers not to visit the refuge. Knezovich said he doesn’t know why Shea disobeyed those requests.
“Some of those people are criminals,” Knezovich said of the armed men who continue to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
John Sattgast, a spokesman for Shea, reiterated Tuesday that Shea was asked to travel to Oregon by local lawmakers on a “fact-finding mission.”
“It was just a weekend trip at his own expense,” Sattgast said, in response to Knezovich’s remarks.
The Spokane County sheriff and Spokane Valley conservative had been at political odds even before Knezovich took the stage at an event last summer at Central Valley High School, where he warned attendees of right-wing extremists.
Shea challenged Knezovich in December 2014 when a sheriff’s deputy was captured on video explaining that law enforcement’s need for military equipment was due in part to “constitutionalists” who were storing weapons and ammunition.
Knezovich plans to hold a second event, similar to the one at Central Valley High School in June, at 7 p.m. Monday at the Bing Crosby Theater in downtown Spokane. Free tickets are available for the talk, titled “The Threats We Face,” through Eventbrite. The event is being hosted by the group Republicans of Spokane County, which is not affiliated with the Spokane County Republican Party.