A Spokane County native and longtime attorney will challenge incumbent Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell from within his own party in the August primary.
Stephanie Olsen, who worked for more than a decade as a deputy in the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office, announced last week she will run as a politically moderate alternative to Haskell.
“I have a strong understanding of how to keep our community safe, but in a professional manner that also brings pride to our community of our criminal justice system,” Olsen said.
Haskell has come under scrutiny in recent weeks following the release of racist remarks his wife made on social media, which included the use of racial slurs and describing herself as a “proud white nationalist.” He has since apologized for his wife’s comments and, in a statement, said he would ensure “the equal treatment of all people under the law regardless of race or color.”
Olsen said she is not running in response to those comments, but denounced them.
“It’s vile, it’s awful, it is wrong. I do not agree with any of what she has said, what she does, or how he deals with it or what he accepts from it,” Olsen said. “What we accept becomes the standard, and that’s not what it should be.”
Since 2018, Olsen has worked as an assistant attorney general under Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, but said she is a lifelong Republican.
Olsen, 47, painted herself as an attorney open to collaboration and reforms to the criminal justice system, on the condition they do not risk public safety. She described Haskell as a leader who refuses to listen to even the most knowledgeable people in his office.
“You need to entrust your prosecutors with the power to do the right thing and to have an atmosphere of appreciation for what they’re doing,” Olsen said.
Olsen said Haskell has resisted sensible changes to the criminal justice system, like the expansion of therapeutic courts – such as Therapeutic Drug Court – that aim to address the root causes of criminal behavior.
“I’m not looking to overhaul everything at once, but there’s incremental changes that Larry ignores,” Olsen said.
Haskell did not return a request for comment on Friday.
Olsen also noted that Haskell has stalled the implementation of a pretrial release program that would release certain nonviolent defendants and connect them with services while they’re awaiting trial.
The goal would be to reduce costs to the criminal justice system while ensuring defendants return to court, but Haskell’s office has demanded it include more strict supervision of defendants.
Olsen argued the program could save thousands of dollars.
“There’s so much out there we can do if we’re just a little more open-minded,” Olsen said.
Olsen noted she has deep family connections to law enforcement, and reforms should boost or, at the least, not harm public safety.
“I come from a long line of law enforcement and support the mission of the local police as well as the state police in the community,” Olsen said.
Olsen joined the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office in 2006 under Steve Tucker, who she described as a moderate Republican – “which is a good fit professionally and personally for me,” Olsen said.
After Haskell took over, the atmosphere of mentorship and camaraderie deteriorated, she said.
“People were scared of everything and everybody,” Olsen said. “It is still an atmosphere that he encourages to this day.”
Olsen joined the state Attorney General’s Office in 2018, where she focuses on child welfare cases. Though she doesn’t know Ferguson personally, she described his leadership style as a “totally different approach.”
“It’s really leadership and not about partisanship. The (Attorney General’s) Office has a leader who cares about the community. It’s not about him,” Olsen said.
Olsen, a graduate of the Gonzaga University School of Law, was raised outside Cheney and lives in Spokane.
She said she’s jumping into the race “full of energy and determination.”
“I know I can do it, but I’m not doing it by myself; there’s a lot of people that are behind me,” Olsen said.
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