Second challenger files to run against Deschutes County sheriff

Deputy Eric Kozowski joins La Pine retiree Will Gibbons in bid for Shane Nelson's post

BEND, Ore. - A second challenger filed his candidacy Tuesday to run against Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson -- a sheriff's deputy who said voters deserve a choice amid the recent tumult affecting the agency.

Eric Kozowski, a deputy with the agency for the past six years, filed on the filing deadline day for the May 17 primary.

Last week, a La Pine resident has thrown his hat in the ring to run for sheriff: Will Gibbons, a retired former police officer, submitted  his candidate filing papers on March 1.

With three names on the May 17 primary ballot, state election law says one will win the seat if they get over 50 percent of the ballots cast. If no one reaches that mark, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff in the November general election.

Here's the full announcement statement from Kozowski:

"Our world and our community are changing rapidly and the Sheriff's Office must be 100% effective to protect the citizens we serve." With that statement, Deschutes County Sheriff's Deputy, Eric Kozowski announced that he is a candidate for Sheriff – and for the first time in nearly two decades, voters will now have a choice when electing their Deschutes County Sheriff.

Given the current turmoil at the Sheriff's Office, Kozowski says now is the time for him to step forward and provide necessary leadership and reform.

Kozowski is ready to evolve his successful career in law enforcement and enter the political process. Kozowski offers this rationale, "The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office has great potential, but is in need of fresh ideas and new leadership. It is time to end the cycle of entrenched thinking and rubber stamped management transitions – that is why I chose to run."

Kozowski has filed to run against the current, and recently appointed, Sheriff, Shane Nelson. Kozowski has an interesting and varied resume for the job. He has fourteen years in law enforcement, including being a Deputy in Deschutes County since 2010.

He spent over fifteen years in the technology industry, including starting and operating his own company. He spent six years (active and reserve) in the U.S. Marine Corps, including a deployment to Kuwait during Desert Storm.

"I bring a diverse background to the position and believe that the position of Sheriff in Deschutes County requires a new perspective along with vision and passion to make the Sheriff's Office the premier law enforcement agency in Oregon."

"Citizen safety must always be our first priority, but we must also serve the citizens of our county by making the most efficient and intelligent use of the tax dollars they entrust to us." says Kozowski. "To ensure we elevate and enhance services, I will spend time in the field, meeting with people across the County and will bring a new and appropriate level of transparency to this office."

Kozowski is running on a platform of restoring trust, creating confidence, and demanding accountability in the Sheriff's Office. Emphasizing that point he said,

"With the recent firing of Scott Beard due to suspected theft of county funds, and last year's unacceptable jail death, there is a serious breach of the public trust, which must be addressed and restored. In addition, employee morale in the department has been damaged due to these incidents, and there is an overall lack of day-to-day leadership in the department. I know, as I see it in my job daily."

"It is my firm belief that administrative challenges and poor morale has impacted the quality of service delivered by the Sheriff's Office and the safety of the people who live in Deschutes County. I plan to be the most visible and accessible Sheriff in many years. I will reach out across the nation to identify and institute law enforcement best practices for a community of our size and I will strengthen our ties with other law enforcement and community partners here in Central Oregon."

Kozowski suggests he will have to "adjust accordingly to master the political process," saying, "Although I have never chosen to be a politician, this allows me to bring passion and vision to the position of Sheriff."

"I have worked diligently throughout my life, and I am proud to have amassed a combination of extensive law enforcement, military, business, and technology experience. I believe I will not only restore the trust that has been lost but, I also intend to set a new, clear vision for the office, and lead the Sheriff's Office into 21st Century public safety practices."

As for Gibbons, he listed his occupation as currently retired but gave his past experience as a former police officer and federal police officer, as well as an EMS professional, search and rescue and swift water rescue, though he did not list the locations or times of that service.

Under educational background, Gibbons listed law enforcement courses at the Community College of the Air Force, as well as credits earned in criminal law and sociology at Rogue Community College.

Gibbons also indicated he won't form a candidate committee and does not expect to spend or receive more than $750 in campaign contributions. NewsChannel 21 has reached out to Gibbons to interview him but our calls have not been returned.

Nelson was appointed by county commissioners last year to complete the remainder of the term of retiring Sheriff Larry Blanton, who had recommended Nelson for the post

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