A veteran Spokane County sheriff’s deputy was fired last Thursday, less than a week after filing paperwork to run for sheriff.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he terminated Deputy Craig Chamberlin for lying during an internal investigation last year, an accusation Chamberlin denies.
Knezovich said the internal investigation was the second in 2021 examining actions taken by Chamberlin.
Chamberlin said he believes the firing was politically motivated. Knezovich has said he won’t run for a fifth term in this year’s election and has endorsed Spokane County Undersheriff John Nowels to replace him.
Chamberlin filed paperwork to run for sheriff with the state Public Disclosure Commission on Feb. 11. In his 22-year career with the sheriff’s office, Chamberlin became well-known to the public through numerous TV and radio appearance on behalf of the office.
Knezovich said Chamberlin lied about circumstances regarding a character reference letter Chamberlin wrote for his daughter’s club volleyball coach, who is facing a felony child pornography charge. Knezovich said an internal investigation against Chamberlin launched late last year and wrapped up last week, resulting in Chamberlin’s firing.
Knezovich said Chamberlin acknowledged in his letter, which Chamberlin said he wrote Sept. 5, that he knew about the charge the coach was facing before he wrote the letter. Each time investigators spoke with Chamberlin his story changed, Knezovich said.
Chamberlin, who denied that he lied, said a handwritten letter he received from the coach in early July requesting a positive reference was “very vague.” He said the coach did not specify what he was charged with or where the case was in the judicial process.
“The thing I can’t wrap my brain around is I was terminated for something that I had absolutely nothing to do with,” Chamberlin said of the criminal investigation into the coach. “I was not part of the investigation. I had no knowledge there was even an investigation until I received the letter from coach.”
Chamberlin said he was “sick to my stomach” when he heard the accusation against the coach, whom he has known since high school, because he stuck up for him with his reference letter. He said he regrets writing the letter.
Chamberlin also violated sheriff’s office policies in early 2021 when he allowed his girlfriend at the time to take a sleeping pill that was prescribed to Chamberlin. Chamberlin said providing her the medication was a mistake.
Knezovich said prosecutors declined to prosecute Chamberlin for the alleged crime, which would have been delivery of a controlled substance. Knezovich suspended Chamberlin for 40 hours but said he would have fired him had he been prosecuted.
Knezovich said Chamberlin’s claim that his firing was about politics is “just another lie.” Knezovich said Chamberlin knew he was under investigation since November and that it would likely lead to his termination.
“This had nothing to do with politics,” Knezovich said. “I’m not running for sheriff, and it’s up to the citizens of this county now to choose the best and the brightest to run this agency, and I can tell you that Craig Chamberlin is not that.”
Chamberlin said it’s completely false that he knew he would likely be fired at the end of the investigation.
“I think Sheriff Knezovich has so much hatred and dislike toward me he would do anything he could to keep me from winning the election,” Chamberlin said.
Chamberlin, who filed to run for sheriff this month, has been with the sheriff’s office since before Knezovich assumed the head of the department in 2006. He said his relationship with Knezovich was positive initially.
“I don’t know where his dislike for me came from,” Chamberlin said.
Chamberlin, a divorced father with three daughters, said he will run a positive campaign.
“I’m not going to throw mud,” Chamberlin said. “That’s not my style. I’m going to stay positive just like I have my entire career.”
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