BEND, OR -- Deschutes County voters will decide in November whether Sheriff Shane Nelson remains at his post. His challenger, Deputy Eric Kozowski, was hired in 2010 by then-Sheriff Larry Blanton; although, Blanton admits he never worked closely with Kozowski. "He’s a nice young man. I’m sure he means well. But, it’s very important that the decision made by the citizens of Deschutes County take all the factors in hand, in terms of the experience of the candidates. It’s easy to be a Monday Morning Quarterback. The difficult complexities relating to personnel issues, law issues, lawsuits and trying to evaluate the needs and issues as they present themselves, is not an easy task."
Blanton doesn't believe Kozowski yet has the experience necessary to lead Central Oregon's largest law enforcement agency. "You’ve got to be well versed in policy, well versed in procedure, well educated. It’s important that you come through the ranks so you can get different ideas and ideals about what makes the world go round – ‘that’s why we do that,’ and ‘ that’s why we have that policy.’ It’s a huge, difficult task."
When Blanton retired last year, he advocated for then-Captain Shane Nelson to complete his term. But, he tells KBND News the final decision was up to County Commissioners who unanimously approved the appointment. He is now supporting Nelson's run. "I was Shane’s Field Training Officer when he was hired on with the Sheriff’s Office. We both came through the ranks together, as it were. I was a Patrol Sergeant when he was hired on, and I’ve watched him grow into the business. I know how serious he takes the task at hand; he’s supported by his family. He’s just one that certainly I would trust with the quality of life issues and the decisions and the challenges that go on with the Sheriff’s Office."
Blanton says this isn’t the first time a low-ranking employee has fought for the top job. "It happens. I’ve heard of Sheriff’s Offices where four or five different people are running for Sheriff, including those that are in the office or out of the office at another agency. So, not unusual." According to the state's Department of Public Safety and Standards, there are a small handful of cases in Oregon over the last several decades who were not in command positions prior to their election as Sheriff.
Kozowski was a deputy in Wallowa County for six years before moving to Deschutes County and has said he managed several programs there. Despite multiple attempts for comment, the Wallowa County Sheriff refused to discuss Kozowski’s work with his department and Deputy Kozowski declined to sign a liability release that could have cleared the way for that conversation.