Detective Sgt. T.J. McDermott will be the next Missoula County sheriff.
McDermott beat Undersheriff Josh Clark, who ran as a write-in candidate, on Tuesday night, ending the most contentious Missoula County sheriff's campaign in recent history.
By 11 p.m., McDermott had garnered 20,456 votes of the 32,555 total ballots.
While Missoula County election officials reported 12,099 write-in ballots had been counted, the number listing Clark as the candidate of choice hadn't been tallied.
McDermott was celebrating with friends, colleagues and family members at The Depot in downtown Missoula.
“Tonight really represents a positive change in the sheriff’s office and the end to a lot of hard work of getting our message out there that we want to change things and we want to do better by our community,” he said.
He said the campaign had been an arduous journey and he's eager to begin a new year as sheriff of Missoula County.
"We are going to start out by treating each other fairly, with dignity and respect," he said. "That’s the most important thing right now. Now that the election’s over, we need to get back on track and get back to serving this wonderful community that we are sworn to protect."
His future undersheriff, Jason Johnson, echoed McDermott's goals and shared how the new administration will start to mend the broken department.
“T.J. knows that he has to prove himself and I think the way to do that is to ... surprise some people who think he may hold a grudge, by maybe going to them and telling them we want you to be successful here at the sheriff’s office because if you’re successful then we all do (well)," he said.
In June's primary election, McDermott garnered 52 percent of the 12,500 votes cast, while Clark polled 30 percent and Seeley Lake Deputy Bob Parcell received 18 percent.
Since no Republicans ran in the primary, it appeared McDermott would be uncontested in the November election. But Clark threw his hat in the ring at the last minute – filing to run as an independent write-in candidate in late September.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Clark said his campaign gained tremendous momentum and he was confident despite running as a write-in. However, as it became clear he wouldn't garner enough write-in votes to win the sheriff's race Tuesday night, Clark said he couldn't help but feel a little bit disappointed.
"Going into it, I knew it’s the toughest way to win an election and it proved to be true." he said. "I can’t say there is anything that I would have done differently. It’s just a tough way to win as a write-in (candidate.)"
Tensions in the Missoula County Sheriff's Department became apparent when McDermott and Johnson filed human rights complaints, claiming they were discriminated against when they announced their plans to run for sheriff and undersheriff, respectively.
The Human Rights Commission found Johnson's complaint had merit and awarded him $60,000 prior to the June election. McDermott settled with the county and also received $60,000.
In August, Clark filed a complaint with Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl, alleging McDermott had violated several campaign laws by accepting illegal corporate donations from a local law firm. Motl sided with Clark in October, releasing his decision that McDermott had violated three campaign finance laws during his campaign.