‘They never could figure me out’: Former King County Sheriff looks back on shortened tenure

Jan 12, 2022, 5:13 AM | Updated: 8:41 am
King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, coronavirus...
Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht. (KIRO Radio)
(KIRO Radio)

Former King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht left office at the end of 2021, and spoke to KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show this week to reflect on her tenure.

With position no longer up to voters, King County begins search for new sheriff

Johanknecht served just one term as sheriff, ending in the wake of a trio of voter-approved charter amendments, one of which changed the role to an appointed position rather than an elected one. At the time, she claimed the amendments would functionally “dismantle” her office, although others — including County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay — argued they were crucial to creating a culture of accountability.

Prior to those charter amendments, Johanknecht’s term was scheduled to expire in 2022, effectively cutting her time as sheriff short by a year. The end result was three years in office marred by a difficult relationship with those in county government.

“I don’t think they ever really figured me out,” she opined. “I don’t think that the politicians quite understood I wasn’t about trying to gain their acceptance as much as about running the sheriff’s office.”

She also wasn’t without controversy over her time in office. That included calls for her resignation in early 2021 from King County Executive Dow Constantine and several county councilmembers, after an internal email from her to her staff surfaced publicly, where she offered support for the deputy who shot and killed 20-year-old Tommy Le in 2017.

A month later, a survey revealed that a sizable portion of the King County Police Officers Guild also wanted Johanknecht to resign, claiming that her communication skills were lacking, while voicing frustration over her lack of face-time at precincts.

King County Sheriff refuses to resign despite councilmember’s demand

Johanknecht looks back on that period with frustrations of her own.

“I found people calling for my resignation who never talked to me, never asked me about what was going on, never asked me about what the sheriff’s office was doing,” she said. “It was just the thing to be done.”

“You at least expect a phone call from people before they’re going to raise their hand and tell you that you should resign over things and events and information that they had no knowledge about internally, and still don’t to this day,” she added.

Even so, she remembers much of her time as sheriff fondly.

“I think that there were good adjustments made to King County policy,” she said. “I think that we learned a lot and worked with community around use of deadly force by law enforcement. I’m proud of a lot of the work, it’s just hard right now to reflect back on everything that was done.”

Listen to the full interview with Mitzi Johanknecht below:

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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‘They never could figure me out’: Former King County Sheriff looks back on shortened tenure