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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Mayor David Condon, police Chief Craig Meidl say state Rep. Matt Shea is unfit for office

Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, walks off the House floor to attend a caucus meeting, Monday, April 22, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia. An independent investigation into Shea is expected to be released in the coming weeks. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
By Kip Hill Chad Sokol and Rebecca White The Spokesman-Review

Spokane’s police chief and mayor have declared state Rep. Matt Shea unfit for office after leaked emails revealed the Spokane Valley lawmaker sought to conduct surveillance on local progressive leaders as part of his quest to establish a 51st state governed exclusively by Christians.

Mayor David Condon and Chief Craig Meidl denounced Shea in statements to The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday, joining local activists and Spokane City Council members in calling for his removal from the Legislature. Leaked emails showed that Shea collected “intelligence” on Council President Ben Stuckart, Councilman Breean Beggs and Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, among others.

“Our nation, our state and our city only work because our citizens have granted authority to the leaders they elect to serve them,” Condon said. “When an elected official’s personal actions threaten the public trust in our public institutions and foundational principles, it’s time for that person to resign. This is where Rep. Shea finds himself.”

Though the mayor’s office is officially nonpartisan, Condon is aligned with the Republican Party and previously worked for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, an elected Republican, has spent years calling on the GOP to censure Shea and make the case to voters that he is a dangerous ideologue.

“I truly believe it’s time for the leadership of the Republican Party in the state of Washington, his peers, to step up and have the courage and the integrity to do the right thing,” Knezovich said. “If he will not step down, they need to work to remove him.”

In his statement, Meidl said recent revelations about Shea “seem to reveal an attitude of judge, jury and executioner.”

“Our Founding Fathers warned against despotism, which resulted in the three separate branches of government we follow today. Furthermore our government is of the people, by the people and for the people,” Meidl said.

“Rep. Shea seems to have lost these founding principles somewhere along the way when he advocated for illegal and inappropriate behavior against others. Serving others as a voice of the people, in line with our Constitution, is a privilege that his behavior would seem to indicate he no longer deserves.”

Meidl’s denunciation follows one by the Spokane Police Guild, the union representing the rank and file of the Spokane Police Department. The guild said Monday: “It is clear by Mr. Shea’s conduct he is more interested in promoting his own ideology than upholding the rights afforded to all citizens under the Constitution.”

Kevin Richey, president of the union representing Spokane County sheriff’s deputies, said Shea does not have their support, either. The union includes deputies who are contracted as Spokane Valley police officers.

“We haven’t endorsed him for many, many years now, so I think it’s pretty clear where we stand on that,” Richey said. “He’s not someone that we support.”

Richey, who is also the mayor of Airway Heights, said the union has taken issue with Shea’s rhetoric in the past, including when he spoke to a crowd of “constitutionalist” demonstrators in 2014 about their perceived “militarization” of the sheriff’s office.

One deputy sued Shea for defamation in 2017 after Shea publicly alleged the deputy had provided the gun used in the murders of three people. That lawsuit ended quietly in May, apparently after the parties reached a confidential settlement.

The Spokane chapters of the NAACP and the National Organization for Women also have called for Shea’s resignation.

Attempts to reach Shea, who rarely speaks to the news media, were unsuccessful Tuesday evening. He had been silent on Facebook, where he often addresses messages to supporters, since Saturday, when he shared an opinion piece criticizing the Southern Poverty Law Center.

He’s been elected six times since 2008 to represent Washington’s 4th Legislative District, which includes Spokane Valley.

State Sen. Mike Padden, a fellow Republican who also represents that district, declined to discuss Shea’s activities in detail Tuesday evening, but he noted that officials who have called for Shea’s resignation are not from the district.

“The voters elected him, and it’s the voters who are being short-changed,” Padden said. “And other than that, it’s up to Rep. Shea” whether he remains in the Legislature.

Washington State Republican Party officials didn’t respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday.

In response to news reports about Shea’s participation in a private chat that discussed violence against liberals, the state House of Representatives recently hired a team of private investigators to examine Shea’s activities.

House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, said in a statement Tuesday: “I expect this investigation to be comprehensive and provide a more complete picture of the allegations that have appeared in news stories to date. There were many calls for this investigation and it’s important that we preserve its integrity.

“However, I want to make it clear that hate – in any form – is contrary to my values and our caucus as a whole. I condemn those who use threatening rhetoric and advocate for violence. I am also deeply concerned about the allegations of surveillance. Through the investigative process, Rep. Shea will have an opportunity to denounce these things as well, and explain his side of the story.”

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, said he supports the independent investigation. He stopped short of calling for Shea’s resignation but criticized GOP leaders for allowing Shea to keep his post as ranking minority member on the House Environment and Energy Committee.

“Rep. Wilcox has not heard our call to action,” Riccelli said Tuesday.

The Guardian and The Spokesman-Review reported last week that Shea has had close ties with a group that claimed to conduct “patriotic and biblical training on war for young men.”

Further reporting by The Spokesman-Review on Sunday, based on leaked emails and other documents, detailed how Shea compiled dossiers on the City Council members in 2017, sought to purchase GPS trackers, fretted about contact with federal agents and kept a blacklist of suspected informants in his network.

The emails and documents also revealed that Shea plotted to establish a “provisional government” in the event of a collapse and boasted about his efforts to “turn back the tide” of those who practice Islam in the United States.

Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins questioned the credibility of recent news reports as well as Sheriff Knezovich and two former Shea associates who have become whistleblowers, Jay Pounder and Tanner Rowe.

“I think most of this was taken out of context and I would categorize this as a setup,” Higgins said. “This is part of the ongoing war between the sheriff and Rep. Shea. I wish it would end amicably, but it probably won’t.”

Higgins said he doesn’t believe Shea would actually do any of the activities described in the emails, such as purchasing GPS devices to track perceived adversaries.

“I doubt that happened or was ever going to happen,” Higgins said.

Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Brandi Peetz expressed concern but did not name Shea in a statement Tuesday.

“I am deeply troubled by the hate and divisiveness that has erupted in our region,” Peetz said. “We have a responsibility to stand together against individuals and ideologies that seek to divide or perpetuate hateful rhetoric. Our community deserves honorable leadership and the right to feel safe.”

All three Spokane County commissioners, who are Republicans, echoed state Sen. Padden, saying it’s up to voters to decide whether Shea should remain in office.

“It’s not my position; it’s up to the voters to decide how they want to be represented,” Commissioner Al French said. “I’m only accountable for what I do.”

Commissioner Josh Kerns said he condemns “violence in all forms” and anticipates the findings of the House investigation.

While she, too, put the onus on voters, Commissioner Mary Kuney said she is concerned about Shea’s rhetoric, including the views he expressed in a manifesto titled “Biblical Basis for War.”

“I find it very troubling that we have a Republican doing stuff on the fringe,” she said. “I can’t even comprehend it.”

Messages seeking comment from Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell, McMorris Rodgers and Spokane Valley City Council members Arne Woodard, Linda Thompson, Sam Wood, Ben Wick and Pam Haley were not returned Tuesday.