Weather Forecast


Captain, deputy in Meeker County Sheriff’s Office to vie for sheriff in November election

LITCHFIELD — Meeker County voters advanced Jon Thoma and Brian Cruze to the November general election race for sheriff.

Thoma is a captain in the Sheriff’s Office and Cruze is a narcotics investigator.

With all 30 precincts reporting, Thoma was top vote-getter with 1,632 votes and Cruze was second with 906 votes, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Benjamin Aho, who ran for sheriff in 2010, finished a close third with 808 votes, followed by John Wayne with 357 votes, Gary Gruenke with 212 votes and Joel Engler with 96 votes.

Six candidates filed to be on the primary ballot after Sheriff Jeff Norlin decided to retire. According to West Central Tribune archives, Norlin had served as sheriff since being appointed in 2009 after Mike Hirman’s retirement. He had served as chief deputy before his appointment.

Norlin then won election to the office in 2010, defeating Aho.

Aho has been working in law enforcement since 2002, including time with the Watkins police and the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office. His campaign website says he has been with the Litchfield Police Department since 2007. He also is certified as an emergency medical technician and has been working as an EMT since 1996.

Cruze, a Willmar High School graduate, has worked for the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office for 20 years, beginning as a part-time deputy, according to his campaign website biography. He also worked part-time for Eden Valley and Paynesville police early in his career before becoming a full-time deputy. He is currently assigned as a narcotics investigator, representing Meeker County on the CEE-VI Task Force.

Engler is the patrol sergeant for the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office. He told KLFD radio that he has held that position since 2007.

Gruenke has spent 25 years with the Litchfield Police Department, both on patrol and as an investigator, according to his campaign materials. He has served on the Litchfield Rescue Squad for 25 years and has been assistant chief for 10 years.

According to his biography on his campaign website, Thoma has been a captain in the the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office since 2009 and has 25 years of law enforcement experience, including serving as chief of police in Sacred Heart. He has also been  a firefighter.

Wayne has been in law enforcement for 30 years, much of it in North Dakota, according to his campaign website. He has family ties to Meeker County and has been an investigator with the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office since 2001.