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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bar association says feds looking into Shea, will delay work on complaint filed by Knezovich

Washington State Rep. Matt Shea speaks with a crowd of supporters at the Spokane Arena before marching to the Spokane County Courthouse to protest against the statewide COVID-19 shutdown Friday, May 1, 2020. Shea is under an investigation by the FBI for his involvement with several armed standoffs with federal agents.  (JESSE TINSLEY/Spokesman- / Review)

The FBI is investigating state Rep. Matt Shea regarding his role during several armed standoffs with federal agents over the past several years.

The disclosure came from the state bar association, which is deferring a request for its own possible action against Shea based on a complaint by Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

“The FBI is the appropriate agency to investigate allegations of domestic terrorism,” Kathy Jo Blake, the bar association’s managing disciplinary counsel, wrote in a recent letter to Knezovich and his attorney, Mike McKay. “Accordingly, (the Office of Disciplinary Counsel) has decided to defer investigation of this grievance pending the outcome of the FBI’s criminal investigation.”

The complaint cites instances in the state House of Representatives report from an independent investigator that raised questions about Shea’s involvement in the standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management; the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by his son Ammon Bundy and others; and a confrontation in Idaho between the Veterans Affairs Administration and supporters of a disabled veteran being told he had to surrender his firearms.

Legislative leaders said they would send the report by the Rampart Group to federal authorities, but Knezovich said Tuesday he hadn’t been informed of an ongoing investigation.

“I just think that’s the proper procedure,” Knezovich said of the bar association’s decision to delay its possible action.

The complaint also alleges Shea violated rules of professional conduct for attorneys by making false statements in a written response to the investigators, and by helping “stage armed showings of intimidation to interfere with the administration of justice.”

It cites a protest in Spokane on April 22 demonstrating against Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order and a May 1 march from the Spokane County Courthouse to Spokane City Hall in which Shea and other protesters – some of them armed – did not wear face masks or observe social distancing requirements.

“At both events, Shea committed gross misdemeanors by knowingly violating the governor’s orders and putting countless citizens at risk of exposure to COVID-19,” the complaint alleges.

It questions the truth of claims and testimonials made on a website for the Coalition of Western States, an organization for which Shea has served as chairman.

Shea also poured olive oil on the Capitol steps in response to a demonstration by the Satanic Temple of Seattle, causing nearly $5,000 worth of damage , the complaint adds.

In different interviews with right-wing media, he has described the Rampart investigation as political warfare being conducted by “Globalist, Marxist, Islamist” elements, described it as “label lynching” and compared it to efforts to impeach President Donald Trump. He has also claimed he was denied due process by not being able to see the allegations investigators had collected against him, although legislative leaders said he was given opportunities to talked to the investigators and refused.

Shea was removed from the House Republican Caucus by the group’s leadership last December after the report was released, but Democrats’ efforts to expel him from the House failed when no GOP representatives would sign a letter calling for that action.

Last month, Shea didn’t file for reelection to his 4th District legislative seat, setting off a scramble for the two positions. He was later announced as the new pastor of Covenant Christian Church in Spokane.

Shea was billed on May 14 for the cleanup of olive oil poured on the north steps and walkway of the domed Legislative Building. Officials from the state agency that manages the Capitol grounds say the bill is based on witnesses and video of the event. He has 120 days to pay it.

Although Knezovich has spent years “trying to raise red flags” about Shea, he said the complaint was prepared over several months and finished shortly after Shea opted not to run for reelection. They are both Republican officials with support from different factions of the party, but the longtime sheriff said this isn’t some intraparty squabble.

“It’s time for people to understand who he is,” Knezovich said.