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Nowels leads Nelson in Spokane Co. sheriff race; Haskell leads Conklin for prosecutor's job

Savanna Rothe, Spokane Public Radio


Ozzie Knezovich’s choice to succeed him as Spokane County Sheriff was in a strong position Tuesday night, according to initial returns. John Nowels had 58 percent of the vote, compared to 39 percent for Wade Nelson.

Knezovich was the primary fault line in the primary race this summer. Nelson ran in part because he was dissatisfied with Knezovich’s leadership style. He said the department had a morale problem and wasn’t transparent enough. Nowels said he would work with people in a less confrontational manner than Knezovich, and rejected the premise that the office lacks transparency and has morale issues.

But beyond their differences over Knezovich, Nowels and Nelson had a lot of common ground. Both agreed recidivism is a problem. Both said Spokane County needs a new jail. Both men said the department needs more people.

In an interview with Spokane Public Radio earlier this year, Nowels said his top priorities include resolving the department’s staffing shortage by hiring more deputies, something he thinks can be addressed within 18 months. He also wants to beef up a staffing model in which deputies are assigned to specific areas in order to get to know the people and neighborhoods they serve.

Nowels has worked for SCSO for nearly a quarter-century. A graduate of Central Valley High, Eastern Washington University and the University of Oklahoma, Nowels is currently Undersheriff for Intelligence and Investigations within the sheriff's office. His SCSO history includes patrol, traffic, property crimes and narcotics work.

Nelson worked for the SCSO for 21 years before taking a leave of absence last year over his dissatisfaction with Knezovich's leadership. A graduate of Creston High School, Nelson served in the Navy for six years, and in his years with SCSO held many roles, including patrolman, search and rescue, sexual assault investigator and emergency operations.

In the primary, Nowels won 54 percent of the vote. Nelson claimed 28 percent.


Spokane County’s incumbent prosecutor held a lead over his Independent challenger in early results Tuesday night. Larry Haskell had 56 percent of the vote, and Deb Conklin had 44 percent.

During the primary campaign, Conklin and two other candidates argued Haskell’s administration lost the public’s trust after his wife’s racist comments on social media came to light. Conklin renewed her law license to run against Haskell. The other two candidates, Stephanie Olsen and Stefanie Collins, work under Haskell. All three of the candidates running against Haskell in the August primary said a culture change was needed in the prosecutor’s office.

“To an office plagued by controversy, I will bring a fresh perspective as your next county prosecutor,” Conklin wrote in a statement included in this year’s Spokane County voter guide.

Haskell has been county prosecutor since 2014. Previously he served on the Airway Heights City Council. Haskell said the criticism his office has gotten in the past year is mostly from people, such as racial justice advocates, who already disliked him. He condemned his wife’s comments, and promised that his office prosecutes every case fairly.

Conklin is a pastor in Spokane and previously was a prosecutor in Clallam County. She is running as an independent and won the endorsement of racial justice advocates.

This summer, Conklin told Spokane Public Radio the county should be thinking about evidence-based practices that reduce the dependence on jails and bring down recidivism. She said she was also the only candidate focused on inherent bias and its effects on the criminal justice system.

“One of the ways we address it is to intentionally adopt a racial equity lens,” she said, “when we look at everything we do, from charging, to the civil work that the prosecutor's office does, to ask what are the unintended consequences of these choices we make that affect people disparately.”

Haskell said he was running for another term to address police reform laws state legislators approved in the last two years.

“I want to engage the legislature in this next term to restore some of those tools and put the message out that lawlessness is not OK in Washington State,” he said.

In the August primary, Haskell claimed 28 percent of the vote. Conklin garnered 27 percent.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.