A Snohomish County sheriff's sergeant who allegedly left his two-way radio on while having sex in his patrol car has been placed on paid administrative leave while the department investigates.
A Snohomish County sheriff’s sergeant who allegedly left his two-way radio on while having sex in his patrol car has been placed on paid administrative leave while the department investigates the incident.
The 20-year veteran was on duty early Sept. 19 when dispatchers and others heard a 10-second radio transmission of what sounded like a woman moaning. A dispatcher asked the officer to check his mike. The sergeant responded that everything was OK.
Rebecca Hover, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said the department is conducting an internal investigation into allegations that a 45-year-old sergeant “engaged in an inappropriate romantic relationship while on duty.”
She emphasized that it is not a criminal investigation but an investigation of alleged misconduct.
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The investigation is expected to be completed in two to three weeks, Hover said.
The allegations follow two other incidents in the Puget Sound region of officers having sex while on duty and raise questions about what the appropriate discipline should be.
A case involving two police officers in Mill Creek resulted in both officers resigning in the spring. A separate incident in Bellevue resulted in an officer receiving a demotion but being allowed to remain on the force.
“It’s never OK to have sex while on duty when you’re a cop,” said Sue Quinn, past president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. She called it a “betrayal and abuse of power” by those the community invests with authority.
But what punishment for such an offense should be is less clear, said Pierce Murphy, community ombudsman for the Boise Police Department.
“It’s a serious lapse of judgment and of their duty to the public who is paying their salary,” Murphy said. And while it should be treated seriously, he said officer discipline should depend on the seriousness of the allegations, whether a sexual incident was consensual, whether it was with another officer or with a member of the public over whom the police had power, and the officer’s record and years of service.
“They have an obligation to be available, doing their job to keep us safe. If they’re engaged in sex, they’re highly unavailable,” Murphy said.
In Mill Creek, the Police Department turned over to an independent investigator in February allegations that two officers were meeting for sex while on duty. The investigator concluded that the two “engaged in sexual activity while on duty approximately 10 times … even though they understood their behavior was inappropriate.”
Police Chief Bob Crannell said he told the two that a disciplinary hearing could find them guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer and neglect of duty. They chose to resign in April, he said.
“I think the public has the expectation that police are ethical and moral, and they are sworn to uphold the law and act as a model for the community,” Crannell said.
The Bellevue case involved an officer and a dispatcher who allegedly had sex in the Police Department several times in 2008.
Police Chief Linda Pillo demoted the officer in 2009 but allowed him to remain on the force. She said he was in an administrative job, not a first responder, and that public safety was not compromised. She also said that all of the encounters occurred after his shift.
“It was absolutely unacceptable, but does that make him a bad officer?” she asked.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org