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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Moscow police chief, who oversaw University of Idaho killings case, to retire and run for sheriff

Moscow Police Chief James Fry speaks during a news conference Friday, Dec. 30, 2022, at Moscow City Hall. Fry announced that Bryan Kohberger was arrested in Pennsylvania in connection with the Nov. 13 stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students.  (Geoff Crimmins/For The Spokesman-Review)

The man who guided the Moscow Police Department through the University of Idaho killings and the national spotlight that accompanied them is retiring this spring to run for Latah County sheriff.

Police Chief James Fry, 54, will retire May 1 after three decades with the department, including the last eight years as chief, to focus on his bid for sheriff. The primary election is May, and the general election is November.

Fry said he still wants to be involved in law enforcement, still has energy and wants a new challenge.

“Although it’s similar, it’s still new and I think it will be a good challenge,” Fry said. “And if I don’t get elected for some reason, then I will go look for something else.”

Sheriff Richie Skiles said he learned Wednesday of Fry’s intention to run against him. Skiles will seek a third term in November.

He said Fry did a good job as police chief and wished him the best in his retirement.

Fry started as a reserve officer in 1993 and was hired as a patrol officer in 1995. He rose through the ranks before becoming chief in 2016.

Fry graduated from the University of Idaho with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice, according to a city of Moscow news release.

He graduated in 2019 from a 10-week training course at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Fry told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News at the time the opportunity is presented to 1% of law enforcement personnel in the U.S.

In November 2022, Fry was thrust into the national limelight after four UI students – Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin – were stabbed to death at the women’s rental home just off the university’s campus.

Fry provided updates on the case at news conferences packed with national and local media and was watched across the country. He and his department, which has over 30 officers, faced criticism by some who said Fry did not provide enough information, and that his department was not equipped to handle a quadruple homicide investigation.

Seven weeks after the killings, police arrested Washington State University graduate student Bryan Kohberger in Pennsylvania.

Fry said the stress that accompanied the Kohberger case played “somewhat of a role” in his decision to retire.

“We moved through that whole process even though it was stressful; we got the job done and we did it right,” Fry said of the homicides investigation. “So, no matter how people think of me, the ultimate thing is we held the integrity of the case at the highest level just like we still are today until it’s completed.”

Moscow Mayor Art Bettge said the harsh criticism Fry and his department received nationally weighed on Fry.

“The chief had to take a lot of that stress on himself because he had to keep the rest of the force focused and working on the case and solving the case,” Bettge said.

The narrative changed drastically when Kohberger was arrested, he said.

“Suddenly, Moscow police and Chief Fry are looking like geniuses,” Bettge said. “That had to be gratifying, but the stress leading up to it had to be blood-pressure raising and just horrific to endure.”

Bettge said Fry handled the chaos as professionally as anyone could have.

“I would say he handled that very professional in the face of some very negative headwinds that went on, and that’s the acme of a professional, is your ability to do your job regardless of what’s been thrown at you by outside entities and people who don’t know the full story,” Bettge said.

Bettge described Fry as a “nice, quiet leader.”

“He preferred to be a little more on the quiet side and just lead by example and make the hard decisions as necessary, but it wasn’t about him,” Bettge said of Fry’s tenure as chief.

Fry lives in Troy, Idaho, with his wife of 32 years, Julie. They have four grown children. Julie Fry was elected as the Latah County Clerk in 2022.

Fry and Bettge said they’re proud of the community policing philosophy Fry has helped maintain where protecting and serving residents trumps enforcement.

“We really do work hard with the community and try to build relationships with the community, and I think that has been fostered over the years,” Fry said.

Bettge said, “Community policing was an ideal to which the chief held himself to a high standard, and that percolated throughout the department and has left us with a police department that the citizens of Moscow respect and appreciate what they do.”

Fry said law enforcement changed in several ways in his 30 years.

Moscow police has seen changes of its own during Fry’s tenure as chief. The department got a new police station, brought in its first drug dog and implemented body cameras on officers in the last few years.

The city will start the process for the selection and appointment of the next police chief over the next few weeks, the city said. Bettge said the goal is to hire a new chief by the time Fry retires. Fry said he expects he’ll be involved in the hiring process.

Fry said he wants to be remembered as a chief who did his job to the best of his ability, worked hard to build relationships in the community and made the city safer and better for everyone.

“It’s been a great honor to actually be able to serve this community and work with the officers that we have,” Fry said. “We have a phenomenal group of men and women who do a great job, and I’m very proud of the fact I got to be a part of that.”