SHOSHONE — A question and answer session with Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin on Wednesday night was abruptly and heatedly derailed by citizens unhappy with the local Republican party’s choice of nominees to fill the vacant Lincoln County Sheriff position.
The Lincoln County Republican Central Committee last week selected Verlon Southwick, Scott Denning and Rene King from an eight-person applicant pool as the top candidates to replace former sheriff Rene Rodriguez, who resigned earlier this month after he was arrested and charged with seven felonies, including rape and sexual abuse of a child.
The three finalists will be interviewed on Monday by Lincoln County Commissioners, who must decide by May 3 who the next sheriff will be. But Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Wood and other community members said at the GOP-hosted event Wednesday that they don’t believe any of the three candidates are fit to be sheriff and want the committee to rethink their nominations.
“While we appreciate the work the committee has done on this process, they got it critically wrong,” Wood told the room. “This is a horrible situation for Lincoln County, possibly life-threatening. This is a dilemma.”
At least one of the candidates, Wood said, is currently under investigation by Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training and is at risk of decertification. One is under investigation for possibly using excessive force, she said. Wood told the Times-News she could not provide any more details or comment on which candidates are under investigation.
One of the three candidates, Denning, is a former sergeant with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office who has an open lawsuit against the sheriff’s office claiming that he was wrongfully terminated from his position. Denning was hired by the sheriff’s office in January 2015 and was discharged in December 2017, according to court documents from the lawsuit.
Southwick, a former Lincoln County deputy and the son of former Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Southwick, ran a write-in campaign for sheriff in 2016 but was defeated by Rodriguez.
Wood said she is opposed to hiring any of the three finalists. Each candidate comes with his own “issues,” Wood told the Times-News, though she refused to elaborate on what those specific issues were.
“There are no qualified candidates” in the finalist pool, Wood said. “We’re between a rock and a hard place.”
Discussion at Wednesday night’s meeting quickly became heated, as members of the crowd expressed anger over the candidate choices.
“I’m embarrassed,” one woman called out.
“Disgusted,” someone else added.
“Our sheriff should be someone we look up to, not someone we have to look out for,” another attendee shouted from the back.
Lincoln County Republican Central Committee Chair Joann Rutler defended the committee’s selection, saying the committee “did do our due diligence” in investigating and choosing the final candidates — a statement that drew boos from some members of the crowd. She then adjourned the meeting, saying the purpose of the event was to talk to the lieutenant governor about the legislative session. She invited people to give input on the sheriff selection process at the next committee meeting on May 16.
A handout available at Wednesday night’s event outlined the Central Committee process for narrowing down the candidates, stating that “misinformation has circulated regarding the work of the LCRCC” in the selection process.
The process included a background check, according to the handout, as well as an interview in which candidates “were asked to address challenging aspects of their history ... in an attempt to sort rumor from fact.”
When asked by the Times-News after the event whether the committee was aware of any POST investigations when it made its selections, Rutler said she could not comment on what the committee learned about the candidates from their background checks. She again defended the committee’s selection process.
“I understand people are frustrated,” Rutler said. “But we did our job, and we did it well.
“Let’s just say there are a lot of rumors,” Rutler added. “We pushed past the rumors and got to the truth.”
The next Lincoln County Republican Central Committee meeting is scheduled for May 16 — nearly two weeks after the commissioners’ deadline for choosing a new sheriff. Several meeting attendees called for the committee to schedule another meeting before the May 3 deadline to potentially rethink their selections.
Asked by the Times-News after the event, Rutler said she didn’t know whether she would consider calling a special meeting to discuss the matter before May 3, adding that she wasn’t sure whether the committee would legally be able to do so.