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Petition for McKenzie sheriff removal could be filed this week

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- The acting state's attorney for McKenzie County said Monday, Oct. 24, he anticipates filing a petition for the removal of the sheriff this week.

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McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger talks to reporters Monday after the county commission held a special meeting to discuss a potential request for his removal, and a hearing for a lieutenant who has been put on unpaid administrative leave. Photo by Elizabeth Hackenburg/Williston Herald

WATFORD CITY, N.D. - The acting state's attorney for McKenzie County said Monday, Oct. 24, he anticipates filing a petition for the removal of the sheriff this week.

The McKenzie County Commission received an update Monday on the commission's request to have acting state's attorney Todd Schwarz draft a petition to seek the removal of Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger from office.

Schwarz said during the special meeting he is still reviewing information before completing a petition to the attorney general, who will have 30 days to conduct an investigation and make a recommendation to the governor.

The commission's request followed the results of an independent investigation that found evidence of bullying tactics and retaliation in the sheriff's office.

Schwartzenberger said Monday the county officials have no right to interfere with the office of an elected official. He has filed a petition in court to have a judge block the county's efforts to remove him.

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County commissioners also set a Nov. 15 hearing to review possible disciplinary action against Lt. Michael Schmitz.

The county commission placed Schmitz on unpaid administrative leave pending the results of the disciplinary review, but Schwartzenberger said the county's action is illegal and Schmitz is still reporting for work.

"I don't feel the board has the right to interfere with my office and that includes hiring and firing my officers," Schwartzenberger said.

Chris McCullough, a McKenzie County resident and supporter of Schwartzenberger, called the county's actions a "witch hunt" motivated by a personality conflict with county officials and the sheriff.

McCullough said Schwartzenberger, who took office in January 2015, has done a good job addressing crime issues that have accompanied the oil-producing county's rapid growth.

"They need to stop fighting and start realizing that we like this man," McCullough said.

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