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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Knezovich shares reasoning for firing veteran deputy running for sheriff

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 21, 2022

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich listens to Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Haskell on Friday during a news conference at the Public Safety Building.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich listens to Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Haskell on Friday during a news conference at the Public Safety Building. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich elaborated on the reasoning behind terminating a veteran deputy last week, at a news conference Monday.

Knezovich said he fired Deputy Craig Chamberlin for lying during an internal investigation last year, an accusation Chamberlin denies.

Chamberlin filed paperwork Feb. 11 to run for sheriff with the Public Disclosure Commission and was terminated on Feb. 15. 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.

Knezovich describes Chamberlin as a constant problem in the office for years, someone who struggled with substance abuse and displayed inappropriate behavior.

In a Facebook post, Chamberlin said his long career with the sheriff’s office speaks for itself.

“I have always tried to help those in need and tried to be the voice for those who need it,” Chamberlin wrote on Facebook.

Chamberlin received a handwritten letter from Richard Wright, his daughter’s club volleyball coach, asking him to write a character reference letter. The request from Wright was “very vague,” according to Chamberlin, who said Wright didn’t specify what he was charged with or where the case was in the judicial process.

At the time Wright was awaiting trial on felony child pornography charges. Wright pleaded guilty to receipt of child pornography on Feb. 16.

The sheriff’s office was unable to obtain a copy of Wright’s letter to Chamberlin because he destroyed it, according to Knezovich. However, Wright provided a similar letter he had written another parent of a volleyball player.

At the news conference Monday, Knezovich read the letter.

“I hate to be in the position I am but I am contacting you to ask for your help, if you are willing,” Knezovich said, reading the letter. “As you are aware, I am in some legal trouble.”

Knezevich said Chamberlin claimed Wright’s letter to him described the situation as a “legal issue” rather than “legal trouble.”

The letter went on to detail that these references would be submitted to a judge and that it would help if they asked for leniency.

Chamberlin told investigators that when he received the letter from Wright he called a sex crimes detective to ask about the case but could not remember which one, Knezovich said.

Chamberlin wrote the letter on behalf of Wright in early September, which he now says was a “misjudgment.”

In a copy of Chamberlin’s letter for Wright provided by the sheriff’s office, he wrote, “I was beyond surprised to hear the accusations against Rick (Wright) and made it a point not to investigate the accusations or get involved whatsoever.”

This is the line of the letter Knezovich points to as a lie because Chamberlin later said he didn’t know the accusations against Wright.

Chamberlin said he met Wright around 1986.

“I can honestly say Rick’s character and demeanor never worried me and I had absolutely no issue with my daughter being with Rick at any time during a very fun three years playing for him,” Chamberlin wrote on behalf of Wright, according to a copy provided by Knezovich.

Knezovich said Chamberlin also lied about the number of text messages he exchanged with Wright about the letter.

In November, Chamberlin told two detectives he recently had been requested to write a character letter for someone facing a sentencing hearing, Knezovich said. Chamberlin denies the conversation happening, according to Knezovich.

Attempts made to reach Chamberlin on Monday were unsuccessful.

Another officer overheard the conversation and was “very disturbed.” He reported it to internal affairs who opened an investigation.

The investigation found that Chamberlin violated five department policies. Writing the letter was conduct that destroyed public respect and confidence in the operation of police services, according to documentation provided by Knezovich.

Chamberlin received a 320-hour suspension for that violation.

Secondly, he was accused of lying and making misleading statements to investigators, which was a termination offense.

He was also found to have violated special notification requirements to let his supervisor know he had been requested to provide information on behalf of the defense. Knezovich said deputies are required to notify the department, who would then advise them of the best course of action.

Lastly, Chamberlin was found to violate policies related to sick and administrative leave. While on administrative leave, Chamberlin had a nonemergency medical procedure that made him unavailable during contracted hours. He didn’t notify the department or put in for sick time, which are both policy violations.

The termination was made official at a meeting last Tuesday, Knezovich said.

Knezovich said Chamberlin lied to The Spokesman-Review when he said over the weekend it was completely false that he knew Knezovich would fire him at the end of the investigation.

Chamberlin turned in his equipment about a month prior to last week’s meeting because he knew what was coming, Knezovich said.

Chamberlin maintained in a Facebook post Monday that his termination was political and based on Knezovich’s desire for Nowels to be the next sheriff.

He accused Knezovich of using his role as sheriff to further his political career and using “brute force and bullying tactics” to get his point across.

Chamberlin wrote he hopes to make the sheriff’s office more approachable.

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