‘Tremendous dedication and work ethic’: Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi retires after 16 years in office

Published 11:20 am Saturday, January 5, 2019

Sheriff-elect Steve Sandvik did not hold back when asked to describe four-term Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi.

“First and foremost, she is an outstanding law enforcement officer who has displayed tremendous dedication and work ethic throughout her career,” he said. “She was the chief deputy when I was hired and I always thought of her as a partner. There was never any differentiation between her and anybody else if they needed back up on the streets, and that has never changed.”

On Monday, Amazi will watch Sandvik get sworn in as the new Mower County Sheriff. Amazi announced in March 2018 that she would not seek a fifth term.

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Amazi started her law enforcement career after graduating from the Alexandria Vocational Technical Institute (now Alexandria Technical and Community College) law enforcement program in 1983. Her husband, Wayne, who was also in law enforcement, got a job in Helena, Montana, where Amazi was employed at the Lewis and Clark County Jail. They later moved to Minnesota, and Amazi was hired by the Mower County Sheriff’s Office in 1988.

In a nearly empty office, Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi checks her messages. Amazi will officially retire as sheriff on Monday after four terms. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“At that time we had a lot of sworn deputies in the jail,” she said. “I, however, was sworn in as an undercover deputy. On the day I was sworn in, I bought a pound of marijuana while undercover.”

Amazi worked undercover for narcotics before becoming a training officer. In the mid-90s, she was promoted to detective and later became the chief deputy under Sheriff Barry Simonson.

As chief deputy, Amazi gained a lot of logistical experience that would prove useful to her as sheriff, and in 2002, she announced her candidacy.

“I think I knew what I was getting into,” she said.

But her decision to run came at a time when no woman in Minnesota history had ever been elected sheriff, a fact that was not lost on Amazi.

“There were a few (voters) when I went door to door who doubted females could do this job,” she said. “I’m glad I proved them wrong.”

During her campaign, Amazi received support from Simonson and former Sheriff Wayne Goodnature, who was quoted as saying, “She will kick your (expletive).”

In 2002, history was made when Amazi became the first woman to be elected sheriff in the State of Minnesota. She would go on to win again in 2006, 2010, and 2014.

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi assists at the scene of an officer-involved shooting in 2017. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

The Mower County Sheriff’s Office saw changes during her tenure, notably the building of a new Mower County Jail. She also saw to the upgrading of the department’s radio communications system, which was not cheap.

“That’s how technology is,” she said. “We in law enforcement seek the best technology, but it is horrifically expensive.”

Amazi also took an active role in the passage of methamphetamine-related legislation. She successfully lobbied to make it a felony for an adult to have an active methamphetamine lab in the presence of a child, and later got legislation passed that required medicine containing pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient for the manufacture of methamphetamine, to be placed behind the counter at drug stores in Minnesota.

“It was important to educate our legislators on what meth labs are and how toxic they are,” she said. “When you’re a legislator, you probably don’t realize this stuff.”

One of the most notable legislative acts was that involving child protection, prompted by the 2011 arrests of Brian and Charity Miller, a Dexter couple that had chained their children to beds and withheld food. The couple received multiple charges, all of which were gross misdemeanors.

“When we went to charge them, we asked ourselves, ‘How are these only gross misdemeanors?’” she recalled. “For people to do this to a child that was not theirs was a felony, but it was a gross misdemeanor to do it to your own.”

In response, Amazi, along with Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen and Sandvik, who investigated the Millers, teamed up with State Rep. Jeanne Poppe and State Sen. Dan Sparks to get legislation introduced that would make such crimes a felony. They found an ally in Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who was working on getting tougher charges passed for elderly abuse.

“This was really about those who could not speak for themselves,” she said.

In 2012, Amazi, Nelsen and Sandvik testified before the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee on the matter. During her testimony, Amazi was quoted as saying, “In my 28 years in law enforcement, I have never seen a case like this one and I hope to never see one again.”

When the bill was in danger of being tabled by the legislature, Amazi contacted local media outlets to get the word out, securing a passing vote. It was an action that prompted her appointment to the Governor’s Task Force for Child Protection in 2015.

With her law enforcement career spanning over three decades, Amazi decided it was time to move on.

“It’s a combination of years of service and the fact that, at some point, you’ve had enough,” she said of her decision to retire. “I think 16 years as sheriff is long enough. It’s time to join the retired ranks.”

Amazi said she would miss the good people she’s encountered during her time as sheriff.

“Unfortunately, my deputies don’t hear from as many good people as I do,” she said. “The ones that give you hugs in the grocery store, those are who I’ll miss.”

“Will I miss all of it? Heck no!” she added.

With Monday approaching, Sandvik knows he has big shoes to fill.

“(Amazi) has set the bar extremely high,” he said. “In her 16 years as sheriff, I have watched her actions closely and have truly appreciated her ability to take care of some of our most difficult situations. I hope to serve the residents of Mower County and our staff and continue to grow and improve the standards she has set.”