A former deputy’s allegation that King County Sheriff John Urquhart raped her 14 years ago won’t be investigated by the county’s civilian law-enforcement watchdog because that agency has yet to establish the expanded investigative powers granted to it by voters a year ago.
It seems like a case custom made for a police watchdog agency’s review: The head of a law-enforcement department learns he’s been accused of criminal misconduct by a former officer, then tells his internal-affairs squad not to document the matter.
But when a former deputy who recently accused King County Sheriff John Urquhart of rape during an incident 14 years ago took her complaint to the county’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO), the response she received wasn’t what she’d hoped for.
“Unfortunately, OLEO does not currently have legal authority to investigate individual complaints, and for that reason I am not able to pursue your complaint directly,” Deborah Jacobs, OLEO’s new civilian director, told the woman in an email in November.
More than five years after its establishment — and more than a year after King County voters approved a charter amendment to expand its powers to independently investigate deputy misconduct complaints — OLEO’s authority largely remains restricted, interviews and records show.
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Launched in 2011, the independent agency charged with ensuring integrity in deputy misconduct-complaint processes and internal investigations has been saddled with troubles since its inception.
Comparatively speaking, OLEO’s authority as a police oversight agency is weak, a 2015 audit found. Its processes are restricted, its staffing limited, and the disastrous tenure of its inaugural director has stymied its development.
To date, its achievements mostly center on its role as an observer — by conducting annual reviews of completed investigations and auditing department policies and procedures. Even though voters granted the office expanded investigative powers, OLEO has yet to conduct a single probe of a misconduct complaint against a deputy.
Jacobs, appointed as agency director in June, seeks to bring more teeth to the commission’s watchdog role. In a recent interview, she declined to speak specifically about the woman’s complaint against Urquhart, who vehemently disputes her rape allegations.
But in general, Jacobs said she supports creating a system to ensure that certain types of serious misconduct complaints receive a thorough, outside investigation — such as those in which a complainant fears retaliation, a conflict of interest exists to create appearance-of-fairness issues, or that raise important issues about public trust.
“What’s critical is that we establish a system for investigation of certain complaints by a qualified external (not KCSO) investigative entity,” Jacobs said in an email last week, using the initials for the King County Sheriff’s Office.
Before such a system can be implemented, the Metropolitan King County Council must approve an ordinance specifying OLEO’s authority — a process expected to be hamstrung by required collective bargaining with the King County Police Officers Guild.
Going to the FBI
Five months after she went to the FBI in June to report that Urquhart, her former supervisor at the Sheriff’s Office, had raped her during a night of partying in late 2002, the woman said she hadn’t heard a word back from the federal agency.
She also learned from a deputy whom she had identified as a potential witness that federal agents never contacted him, either, the woman said.
From court records filed this fall as part of a separate lawsuit against King County, the woman discovered the FBI didn’t plan to pursue her complaint and had informed the sheriff’s internal investigations unit (IIU) about her allegation shortly after she reported it.
She also learned that after Urquhart was informed, he told his internal-affairs commander not to document the matter in the department’s complaint database, effectively killing any internal investigation, according to investigators’ depositions.
“It seems like the FBI just dismissed me as crazy and then basically went and told the sheriff about it,” the woman told The Times last week.
Frustrated, she turned to OLEO in early November. She provided a detailed narrative of her claims and filled out a complaint form, stating in part: “I filed a complaint with the FBI and IIU tried to investigate but Urquhart ordered not to investigate.”
The Times typically does not name victims of alleged or proven sexual assault without their permission. The woman has asked not to be identified.
Urquhart, who disputes the woman’s rape allegation as well as what he has described as “rumors” that he had an affair with her, has said no further investigation is warranted.
In court statements, the sheriff asserted that because the FBI’s review determined the woman wasn’t credible, and because she didn’t directly make a complaint to his agency, he suggested to his internal-affairs commander that documenting the matter wasn’t necessary.
Urquhart also has cited the woman’s history of mental-health problems in his rebuttal to her claims, and he has provided copies of correspondence showing the woman consistently has supported him for years.
In a statement to The Times last week, the FBI declined to say what actions its agents took or whom they interviewed when reviewing the allegations. The agency’s review focused on “any applicable federal laws,” the statement said — not on potential state crimes or department violations.
“When the FBI passes information to another agency, we include the details of our review; it is up to the receiving agency how it proceeds with the information,” the statement added. “An FBI review neither dictates nor precludes any actions by partner agencies.”
In sworn statements, two sheriff’s captains and two sergeants who were recently assigned to the internal-affairs squad contend they believe that the woman’s allegation of rape — which constitutes a potential state crime — should have been documented and investigated under internal-investigations protocols.
A separate complaint filed by a deputy in 2014 alleged Urquhart had a consensual sexual relationship with the woman while he supervised her — a potential violation of department policy. Through his chief of staff, Urquhart also directed his internal-affairs unit not to document that complaint, according to the squad commander’s deposition.
Problems from start
Ensuring the integrity of how the Sheriff’s Office handles such complaints and internal investigations was the genesis for OLEO.
Born out of recommendations made in 2006 by a blue-ribbon commission, the Metropolitan King County Council-adopted ordinance establishing the county’s civilian police oversight office immediately faced challenges.
The union representing deputies and sergeants filed an Unfair Labor Practices claim against the measure, contending that such oversight authority was subject to collective bargaining. For five years, the proposed agency languished until OLEO finally became operational under a revised ordinance that watered down its authority.
Since then, OLEO primarily has worked as a review-focused entity that certifies the thoroughness and objectivity of internal investigations. It also conducts audits and reviews of department systems and practices and makes recommendations. Turmoil derailed its progress when its first director, Charles Gaither, resigned in 2014 amid a flurry of misconduct allegations.
Jacobs, a former ACLU director, was appointed to effectively reboot the agency and help implement its expanded powers granted by voters. During the coming year, she plans to conduct several performance audits of the department’s complaint and internal investigations systems to help identify trends and potential areas for improvement.
But enacting a new independent investigative system will be a tougher task. Jacobs is now working on a draft ordinance to incorporate OLEO’s new powers to present to the council. She declined to say when that might happen.
“The County Council needs to approve a new ordinance that includes the authority to investigate and to interview witnesses (including KCSO personnel), and that will have to be addressed in collective bargaining, which is a slow and uncertain process,” Jacobs noted in an email to the woman who has accused the sheriff.
The email thread also shows Jacobs sought to help the woman by suggesting other potential options. The woman eventually reported her rape allegation to the Seattle Police Department. On Nov. 10, the city police agency took the woman’s complaint and gave her a case number. But since then, Seattle detectives haven’t followed up with her, nor have they interviewed a deputy she identified as a key potential witness, the woman said.
Asked whether the department is investigating, a Seattle police spokesman told The Times in an email last week: “We don’t have any updates at this time. Please feel free to check back.”