Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ada County’s sheriff quit suddenly, his motivation a mystery

Former Ada County Sheriff Stephen Bartlett at the county jail in 2017. Bartlett’s email announcing his sudden retirement on Memorial Day raised more questions than it answered.  (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman)
By Sally Krutzig Idaho Statesman

On Monday morning, the more than 750 employees of the Ada County Sheriff’s Office woke up to an unexpected email.

“I am writing today to let you know that I am retiring from the ACSO and as your sheriff,” Sheriff Stephen Bartlett wrote.

Bartlett had been sheriff since 2015. A Republican, he had just sought and won re-election in November. His retirement was effective immediately. He would not be returning for even a single day.

He offered little insight into the reason for his abrupt departure.

“I have to attend to a couple personal items and scheduling in my life and am looking forward to that very much,” he concluded. “Stay safe and enjoy the journey.”

Two days later, the Ada County Sheriff’s Office still was providing no new details. Questions about Bartlett’s departure remained unanswered.

“Personnel rules do not allow us to elaborate further on his departure at this point,” according to a news release from the Sheriff’s Office Tuesday evening.

Bartlett’s media relations team was on vacation when he sent his email – it was Memorial Day, after all. Neither Public Information Officer Patrick Orr nor Director of Communication Andrea Dearden had expected to field a flood of calls from reporters wondering just what was going on. Both said simply that Bartlett’s announcement was “not expected.”

Bartlett’s email, it seemed, took everyone by surprise.

The mystery persisted Wednesday. Orr told the Idaho Statesman that he could not release further information. Statesman attempts to reach Bartlett for comment were unsuccessful.

Internal complaints against Ada County employees go through the county’s Human Resources Office. The Statesman asked Jessica Donald, Ada County human resources supervisor, whether there is an internal investigation of Bartlett. She, too, said she could not discuss personnel matters.

“I am unable to confirm anything either way,” Donald said.

The Ada County Prosecutor’s Office handles internal county investigations referred by human resources. The prosecutor’s office did not return the Statesman’s requests for comment.

Surprise end to a long career

A Statesman check of jail and court records turned up no evidence of any possible criminal activity.

Kelsey Woodward, a management assistant for Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training, said the organization has not received any complaints regarding Bartlett and is not investigating him. POST is responsible for certifying all police officers in Idaho and has the ability to revoke an officer’s certification after investigations.

Bartlett’s finale marked a striking end to a long career in law enforcement.

He began policing in 1997 at the Payette County Sheriff’s Office. According to his campaign website, he has worked as a 911 dispatcher, jail deputy, patrol deputy, detective, K9 handler, polygrapher, crisis negotiator, patrol sergeant, jail sergeant, lieutenant, chief of Eagle police and administrative captain.

After joining the Sheriff’s Office in 2003, Bartlett moved up the ranks. In 2015, he became the county’s 38th sheriff when he was appointed by county commissioners after the retirement of Gary Raney.

He ran Idaho’s largest law enforcement agency, which includes the county jail. He managed more than 750 employees, a nearly $80 million budget and approximately 3,500 offenders. He was elected by the public in both 2016 and 2020.

“I believe the culture of our agency is an intentional choice – one that must be nurtured,” wrote Bartlett on his website last year. “I want to create a culture of engaged employees who feel valued, want to make a difference and have a passion for what they do. I vow to listen.”