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Ex-sheriff Chris Nanos announces he's running to unseat Napier

Chris Nanos, the former sheriff of Pima County, announced Tuesday night that he'll again seek that office, calling on current Sheriff Mark Napier to "step down and not run for re-election."

Napier, a Republican, won the 2016 election contest with Nanos, a Democrat who had been appointed to the office a year before as Clarence Dupnik retired after 35 years as the county's top lawman.

Nanos announced his candidacy in a post on his personal Facebook page, saying he'd file campaign paperwork Wednesday morning.

Nanos referenced a recent vote by Pima County deputies that voiced "no confidence" in Napier's leadership. The sitting sheriff has discounted that vote, saying it doesn't represent a majority of the department.

After that vote, "I started receiving numerous calls. I have heard from several department employees...from civilians, to corrections officers, from deputies to command staff...and they all want the same thing...they just want their department back," Nanos wrote.

A billboard near PCSD headquarters on East Benson Highway popped up earlier this month, encouraging a Nanos run.

"We need a new leader. We need Nanos," it read. The sign, which was only up for a few days, said it was "sponsored by employees of the Pima County Sheriff's Department."

"After months of my telling others I would only run if I had the support of the department, a billboard goes up. If that isn't a 'sign'... no pun intended; well, kinda no pun," he told TucsonSentinel.com on Tuesday night.

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"It could not be any clearer, the department has spoken," Nanos said. "I join with them in asking Sheriff Napier to be a man of his word and step down and not run for re-election."

Nanos has said he doesn't know who paid for the billboard promoting another run by him. No PCSD employees have come forward to acknowledge putting up the sign.

Napier didn't immediately respond to questions about Nanos's candidacy Tuesday night. We'll update this report when we hear from him.

Also announced as a candidate on the Democratic side is Kevin Kubitsky, a 20-year PCSD veteran who's been involved in the Deputy Sheriff's Association, the union for Pima deputies.

Prior to his appointment, Nanos was tapped as Dupnik's handpicked successor, first being elevated to the long-vacant post of chief deputy of the Pima County Sheriff's Department, and then endorsed for the post by the long-time Democratic sheriff.

He also inherited a department wracked by scandals over insider favoritism and misuse of RICO funds forfeited by alleged criminal organizations. Nanos's own chief deputy resigned and pleaded not guilty in a federal criminal case. His chief of staff, a longtime PCSD employee, died by suicide.

Richard Carmona, a 2012 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, ex-U.S. surgeon general and a three-decade veteran of the Sheriff's Department, blasted Nanos a month before the 2016 election, saying he led a "reign of terror" at PCSD.

Dupnik said at the time that Carmona was attacking Nanos because the surgeon wasn't himself set up to become sheriff. "While not running for office himself, he has been running a tireless campaign against (Nanos) citing unfounded and inaccurate claims of cronyism and fraud," Dupnik said.

Carmona asserted that deputies "lived in fear" for their jobs and faced "intimidation, retaliation, coercion" from Nanos and members of his command staff.

Nanos responded by calling Carmona a "blatant liar" who has "anger issues," and told reporters that Carmona had run Kino Hospital "into the ground" and that Dupnik allowed him to "lavish his resume as a deputy and then as a department head."

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Carmona was "barely anything more than a wannabe deputy," Nanos said in 2016, and accused him of making a deal to support Napier's run.

Tuesday night, Nanos was more measured, telling TucsonSentinel.com that "I probably owe him an apology. My passion is no excuse for poor behavior. I should've handled that better than I did, but I should've handled a lot of things better than I did. I'm just asking for an opportunity to prove myself."

Napier, who had come up short in a 2012 challenge to Dupnik, carried the '16 election against Nanos, 56-44 percent.

Now Nanos, who joined the department in 1984, is looking for a rematch.

"Mark has had three years to take this department to new levels, unfortunately, he has failed in so many ways," Nanos told TucsonSentinel.com on Tuesday. "In 2016 he had everyone's support and it's not without reason he's lost it all. He's not only failed his team, but he's failed this community."

"I believe during my brief time in office I was able to accomplish more in one year than Mark has accomplished in four... in spite of everything else that was going on around me," Nanos said later Tuesday night.

Nanos compared his two decades of command experience at PCSD with what he said was Napier's "very brief time" as a captain with the Tucson Police Department before becoming sheriff.

He said it was because of his parents "that I and two of my brothers dedicated our entire lives to law enforcement and public service. It's from this dedication that I have come to this decision. Although I've enjoyed my time in retirement, I miss the opportunity to serve, not just my community, but the very men and women who make up my extended family... my department."

Two other controversial Arizona county sheriffs were also out in 2016: Maricopa's Joe Arpaio was voted out and Pinal's Paul Babeu didn't run again as he pursued a failing bid for Congress.

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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Nanos in 2015, as he was readying to take over the Pima County Sheriff's Department.