Three deputy prosecutors in Stevens County are vying to replace their boss, Tim Rasmussen, since he has decided not to run for re-election.
After four terms and 16 years as county prosecutor, Rasmussen, 74, will retire at the end of this year, citing health reasons.
Erika George, Nick Force and Ken Tyndal are all deputy prosecutors in the Stevens County Prosecutor’s Office running for the top position. A fourth candidate, Geoff Kristianson, is a deputy prosecutor for Spokane County. All four are running as Republicans.
The top two candidates in the Aug. 2 primary will face each other in the Nov. 8 general election.
The candidates will not only have to deal with taking on a new job title, but also lingering mistrust between the prosecutor’s office and county commissioners.
An ongoing lawsuit has strained the relationship between the prosecutor’s office and the county commissioners.
In 2019, Rasmussen sued county commissioners Don Dashiell, Wes McCart and Steve Parker after the state auditor found that they misspent $121,000 in homelessness funds, which led a Spokane judge to effectively remove them from office in 2020. McCart was re-elected a few months later.
Then this March, an appeals court ruled that the commissioners were improperly removed from office and are not personally liable. Rasmussen filed a motion for review with the Washington Supreme Court in response.
Rasmussen’s actions against the commissioners have been controversial. The two new commissioners who were not involved in the case wrote an open letter opposing Rasmussen’s motion for review. Rasmussen says the case has important implications for case law across the state.
Speaking of the three candidates who work under him, Rasmussen said “they are all good lawyers and the county has benefited from their service.”
However, Rasmussen endorsed Tyndal for the role.
“He has the skill and personality traits needed for this position,” Rasmussen said. “He is honest, diligent, and trustworthy. He works hard and is good at what he does.”
Rasmussen cited Tyndal’s service as a lawyer in the Army, commitment to his family and Stevens County as reasons for his endorsement.
The Stevens County Republican Central Committee endorsed both George and Tyndal. A vetting committee put the candidates through a process including an interview and a review of submitted written materials. Each element of this process was scored, and all candidates scoring 80 points or above were recommended for endorsement to the full voting membership of the local party’s central committee, who made the final decision.
Kristianson says outside perspective will help
Kristianson, 45, has been a deputy prosecutor in Spokane County since 2011, where he handles violent offenses with the major crimes unit. He also has been the subject of several conduct complaints, according to disciplinary records.
Kristianson said his priorities, if elected, are to focus on prosecuting property crimes, which he says are the majority of the work for the office, and violent offenses, which are more serious, but less common.
He is open to pursuing sentencing alternatives to reduce or eliminate prison time for nonviolent offenders, while still holding them accountable, such as residential drug offender sentencing or parent sentencing, which can help prevent future relapses. The majority of crimes are committed by people who are using substances, he said.
Kristianson thinks running as the only candidate from outside the prosecutor’s office is to his advantage, given the recent disputes between the elected officials in Stevens County.
“I have no opinion on the commissioners,” he said. “I want to have a good relationship with everybody I can. It’s a lot easier to work with people than it is to fight them on everything.”
He has had numerous complaints of inappropriate conduct related to temper filed against him during his time at the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office, according to disciplinary records obtained by The Spokesman-Review.
Kristianson did not respond to The Spokesman-Review’s questions about these incidents after his initial interview.
In a well-documented January 2013 incident, during a recess when the judge was not present, Kristianson berated a public defender with profanity in front of a full courtroom. The attorney later said she felt threatened and humiliated. Witnesses said the incident was offensive and unprofessional. Kristianson later laughed about it to a colleague on the phone, asking if he “deserved an Oscar” for his performance.
In 2016, Kristianson got into an argument with another attorney outside a jail courtroom. Kristianson got very close to the attorney’s personal space, so the attorney walked into the courtroom, which was in session. Kristianson followed the attorney in, walked around in front of them and got aggressively close to their face again, according to the complaint. The attorney asked Kristianson multiple times to get out of their face or they would file a complaint against him. The incident resulted in an oral reprimand against Kristianson.
In 2019, Kristianson was suspended for two days and required to take an anger management course after he became aggressive inside the sheriff’s office lobby, complaining of a new entry procedure, and loudly made “inappropriate” and “disrespectful” statements to the deputies. In a written response to the investigation at the time, Kristianson denied an accusation that he made it personal toward one of the staff members.
Although Kristianson is coming from Spokane County, he is not an outsider to Stevens County. He was raised in Chewelah and has always called Stevens County home.
George pushes transparency, looks for accountability in courtroom
George, 37, joined the Stevens County Prosecutor’s Office in 2017 as a felony prosecutor in superior court. Her priorities are transparency and prosecuting cases.
“I want to bring our focus back to holding people accountable, prosecuting cases,” George said. “Right now, that is not the biggest priority for the current administration.”
She intends to repair the relationships between the prosecutor’s office and other county offices.
“There is not a working relationship with our commissioners right now and that is a detriment to our county,” George said.
Transparency will help rebuild trust with the community, George said.
“I intend to have an open-door policy and be more transparent and accountable. I’m not going to be perfect, obviously, but I am going to be accountable and be able to answer and at least give an explanation for my decisions.”
George takes a tough-on-crime approach as a prosecutor, but also strives to be fair and consistent, she said.
“My philosophy is really to hold people accountable, not try to just move through cases to get them resolved quickly,” George said.
Force supports new jail, communicating with crime victims in prosecutions
Force, 43, joined the Stevens County Prosecutor’s Office in 2011. He has worked as chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney since 2014.
Under state law, the county prosecutor has a wide variety of duties, so Force doesn’t have just one priority. Duties include advising county officials, representing the county in prosecuting criminal and civil actions, and defending against lawsuits.
“You can’t just focus on one area,” Force said. “That’s kind of the problem you’ll have if someone is focused on just one area, you’re not doing your duty in other areas.”
That being said, “crime prosecution needs to be No. 1, and communication with victims has to be one of our goals in all prosecutions,” he added.
Other pressing concerns are serious drug and mental health problems in the county. They recently started a drug court, which Force said is a good start, but “we need to address this in a multifaceted manner.” A mental health court could help those who fall through the gaps, he said.
The county also needs a new jail, Force said.
“We’re always overcapacity. We’ve been overcapacity since I started here,” he said.
Part of Force’s current duties as a deputy prosecutor is to provide legal advice to the county elected officials. He meets with all of them on a nearly weekly basis.
“I bridge the gap between a lot of these elected officials,” Force said. “I think you need someone who is on a good first-name basis with all these people to be able to properly do your job.”
As chief civil deputy prosecutor, Force prosecutes civil commitment and drug court cases, misdemeanors and felonies in juvenile court, assists in hiring of employees, drafts the office budget and reviews county contracts. He is also the county public records officer and serves on the canvasing board.
Tyndal prioritizes recruiting attorneys for office, repairing relationships
Tyndal, 56, joined the Stevens County Prosecutor’s Office in 2011, and he handles felony cases in superior court.
His priorities are recruiting and retaining talent. Otherwise, the prosecutor’s office just needs to continue what it is doing, Tyndal said.
“I think we have a good foundation where we are enforcing the laws and we are working to continue to do that,” he said. “We are trying to avoid some of the things in other jurisdictions where offices just get overwhelmed. So, my focus would be to recruit and retain attorneys, to get them into our office so we can keep ahead of the curve as Stevens County continues to grow.”
Tyndal believes his experience as a judge advocate in the U.S. Army prepared him to better manage relationships with the office.
“The commissioners that are in there now, if I’m elected, I’m going to make sure that we have a relationship where they feel comfortable coming to our office and talking with us about any issue so things like this don’t happen,” Tyndal said, referring to the conflict in the courts. “Because I think it was just a breakdown in communication that ended up resulting in this.”
Tyndal said he can send someone else to work with them if personalities conflict.
“Our ultimate client is the people of Stevens County,” he said. “So, we need to provide the sort of advice and guidance to avoid situations where the county ends up suing itself and its people.”
His experience is the reason he is running. “I think I am uniquely positioned for this job. I’ve got the experience in (the prosecutor’s) office, but I also have the experience from my time in the Army leading and managing people. And that’s really what we need at this point.”
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