McDermott wins Democratic primary for re-election as Missoula County sheriff

Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott easily won the Democratic primary on Tuesday. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott handily defeated his Democratic primary challenger Tuesday night, setting up a November re-election bid against political newcomer and Independent Travis Wafstet.

Final unofficial vote totals early Wednesday showed McDermott with 11,293 votes, or about 64 percent, while challenger Josh Clark had 6,437 votes, or 36 percent.

The race was a rematch of the bitterly contested Democratic primary four years ago, when McDermott and Clark faced off in a race that ultimately saw Clark leaving the sheriff’s department.

Late Tuesday, McDermott said he feels confident that the people of Missoula County are pleased with the work his department has done the past four years.

“The results of the primary election show that we’re on the right track,” McDermott said. “So moving forward, we want to bring the same team with us and keep our momentum going until the general election.”

Since being elected in 2014, McDermott along with his department have replaced the ballistic vests worn by sheriff’s deputies and equipped each deputy with a body camera and tasers.

The Missoula County Jail Diversion Master Plan was recently adopted by the Missoula City Council and the Missoula County commissioners, which has already added a mental health worker to the county detention facility and boosted treatment outside of jail to those who suffer from substance abuse or have mental illnesses.

The department has also added a school resource officer that serves as a role model to students, ensures positive work environments in classrooms and provides safety training to school staff, McDermott said.

“In the years ahead, I look forward to working with other city and county leaders to enact other recommendations such as developing a 24-hour mental health crisis facility with a law enforcement drop-off, expanding pre-trial, expanding home arrest options or sobriety programs,” McDermott said.

These alternatives to jail will help save tax dollars while providing ways for people who’ve been convicted of crimes to continue working and being with their family, McDermott said.

Rich Maricelli has worked with the sheriff for 20 years, retiring in 2013 and returning to work with McDermott once more as the undersheriff.

“He was an incredible investigator, a good cop and he’s even a better person, really,” Maricelli said. He hopes that the school resource officer program can expand to all 13 schools in the county and continue to expand the citizens advisory board to better inform the department’s actions.