Two King County sheriff’s deputies are facing possible termination for dishonesty after an internal investigation found they falsely accused an African-American bus driver of using a profanity during a heated conversation last year.

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Two King County sheriff’s deputies are facing possible termination for dishonesty after an internal investigation found they falsely accused an African-American bus driver of using a profanity during a heated conversation last year.

The investigation turned on a startling twist: The Metro Transit driver was wearing his own personal body camera he later used to assert the accusation was a lie.

Sheriff John Urquhart said Wednesday he will decide next week whether to uphold recommendations to fire the deputies, Sgt. Lou Caballero and Deputy Amy Shoblom.

Beyond the dishonesty findings, the deputies cast the Sheriff’s Office in a damaging light at a time of widespread distrust of police in African-American communities nationwide, another top-ranking sheriff’s official concluded in a report.

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The internal investigation stemmed from an early-morning argument Nov. 14, which occurred behind a Metro bus in downtown Seattle.

The brief argument culminated months of tension between Caballero, supervisor of a Metro Transit squad, and driver Kelvin Kirkpatrick, who had previously reported that Caballero’s deputies were not doing their job on the overnight shift.

Caballero, referring to the f-word, filed a complaint about an hour after the incident, alleging Kirkpatrick yelled and said, “You got three (expletive) deputies out here that don’t do nothing.”

Shoblom wrote a separate report at Caballero’s request, stating she also heard Kirkpatrick yell and use the profanity.

What Caballero and Shoblom didn’t know was that Kirkpatrick was wearing glasses with a built-in video camera. The recorded video showed Kirkpatrick did not use profanity during the exchange.

Rather, Kirkpatrick can be heard saying, “I’m expressing how frustrated I am at the fact that I got three deputies that don’t do anything when I need help!”

Caballero, who was informed in a May 28 notice that he faces termination for dishonesty, inducing dishonesty and retaliating against Kirkpatrick, denied the allegations in a written statement submitted to Urquhart during a June 23 hearing to allow him to present his side of the case.

“I am a man of integrity and I did not and DO NOT lie,” he wrote, questioning the “authenticity of the video” he had become aware of. He noted he is Cuban American, but questioned why race was even raised in the investigation.

Shoblom, who has been notified she faces termination for dishonesty, also denied the allegations in a statement she presented at her June 23 meeting. She is white.

“This false accusation is both offensive and outrageous,” she wrote, asserting there was “no evidence” the video “is the original.”

She alleged being the target of retaliation over her sexual-harassment claims against the Sheriff’s Office.

Their attorney, Julie Kays, issued a statement Wednesday: “Sgt. Lou Caballero and Deputy Amy Shoblom are forbidden by the Sheriff’s department from commenting on an open investigation. Lou and Amy are honorable and dedicated officers who have tirelessly served the people of King County, and they expect to continue serving the people of King County for years to come.”

Metro earlier cleared Kirkpatrick of misconduct allegations in connection with the incident that could have harmed his 20-year career, according to sheriff’s documents obtained by The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request.

In an interview with The Times on Wednesday, Kirkpatrick, 45, praised the Sheriff’s Office for its handling of the matter.

Kirkpatrick said he had no reason to maliciously go after the two deputies, as was asserted. “They came after me,” he said.

“It’s really sickening,” he said. “My family and I have gone through a lot.”

Kirkpatrick said he began wearing a camera on the job about a year ago, not because of any dispute with the deputies but to feel safe in the event Metro’s onboard camera system failed.

Urquhart said Kirkpatrick’s recording fell within legal bounds because people are allowed to shoot video and audio of police officers on the job. “That’s black-letter law,” he said.

He noted the investigation showed the importance of body cameras, something he said he supports for his deputies if the Legislature deals with public-disclosure issues.

Without Kirkpatrick’s video, Urquhart said, it would have been the word of two deputies against the driver, tipping in favor of the deputies.

Metro Transit spokesman Jeff Switzer confirmed Wednesday that Kirkpatrick was cleared of any wrongdoing stemming from the accusation, but said the incident prompted the agency to send a bulletin to all drivers clarifying they were not to wear personal body cameras while working. Metro is looking into further policy developments, he added.

Complained year ago

Kirkpatrick told the Sheriff’s Office he began having problems with Caballero last August, after Caballero was assigned to the Metro Transit police graveyard shift. As part of its duties, the Sheriff’s Office provides law-enforcement services for Metro Transit.

Kirkpatrick believed Caballero and his team were not providing adequate security for drivers during so-called “Night Owl” layovers when buses are parked in downtown Seattle. He shared his concerns with his supervisor, who agreed to speak with Caballero, the documents say.

Days later, according to a sheriff’s memorandum, Kirkpatrick reported that Caballero approached him. Kirkpatrick said he shared his concerns with Caballero, to which Caballero responded: “… the way I run my crew works for me, and I’m not going to change it.”

In September, a deputy removed a passenger from Kirkpatrick’s bus in downtown Seattle for violating transit rules. The deputy used force on the passenger outside the bus, then apparently waved for Kirkpatrick to drive away so the passenger couldn’t re-board, according to the memorandum.

Caballero later confronted Kirkpatrick about leaving the deputy without support. Caballero raised the need for a security report, directing Kirkpatrick to meet with him after his shift to provide a recorded interview, according to the memorandum.

But Caballero didn’t show up. In his internal-investigation interview, Caballero said he forgot about the meeting.

Kirkpatrick emailed a complaint to the Sheriff’s Office, accusing Caballero of being “unprofessional and condescending” toward him. At the same time, Kirkpatrick expressed concern to a Metro operations chief that Caballero would retaliate against him.

On Nov. 12, according to the memorandum, Kirk­patrick attended a meeting to discuss transit security, which included negative comments from Metro employees. “At the meeting, in a not-so-veiled negative reference to Sergeant Caballero’s squad, participants shared that one of the … squads was proactive and the other … squad was not proactive.”

Two days later, on Nov. 14, Caballero and Kirkpatrick clashed shortly before 4 a.m. on Third Avenue, where Kirkpatrick had stopped his RapidRide bus. Kirkpatrick’s “issue at that time” was that deputies and the supervisor had not checked his coach to remove seven or eight people who were either sleeping or passed out, the memorandum states.

After the argument, Caballero sent an email to a sheriff’s captain, saying he wanted to file a formal complaint against Kirkpatrick, whom he claimed had used profanity during the confrontation. Caballero labeled the driver’s conduct “uncalled for and unprofessional.”

The complaint was immediately forwarded to a Metro official, who opened a review into a potential major policy violation.

Video shown

Kirkpatrick provided the body-cam video to a sheriff’s investigator during a subsequent interview.

It showed him saying, “I’m not yelling at you, sergeant. I’m not yelling at you. I’m expressing how frustrated I am at the fact that I got three deputies that don’t do anything when I need help.”

Caballero, unaware that Kirkpatrick had shot the video, repeated the profanity allegation during a Jan. 27 interview with a sheriff’s investigator.

According to the sheriff’s memorandum, Caballero said the profanity was fresh in his mind when he wrote his complaint and asserted Kirkpatrick was smart enough to move behind the bus so the conversation couldn’t be detected by the audio-recording system on the bus.

Shoblom, also unaware of the video, was questioned Feb. 13. When asked if Kirkpatrick was telling the truth that he didn’t use a profanity, Shoblom replied “No” and said she was 100 percent sure Caballero was telling the truth, according to the memorandum.

Another deputy who witnessed the Nov. 14 confrontation said in a Feb. 15 interview with a sheriff’s investigator that he could tell it was a “heated conversation.”

“But, I didn’t hear any profanity; it was just loud,” said Deputy Jessy Bailey.

Caballero adamantly insisted he never told Shoblom what to write, according to the memorandum.

But Maj. Dave Jutilla, who oversees Metro Transit police, disputed Caballero’s denial. “The statements are identical — including the claim of profanity which never occurred and grammatically improper use of the word ‘nothing’ instead of ‘anything,’ ” Jutilla wrote in the memorandum.

In a subsequent memorandum, Jutilla took note of the broader implications of the findings.

“At the National, State and Regional level,” he wrote, “the public perception by many African Americans of members of law enforcement is critical and laced with distrust. We have seen countless protests across the country and many in the Seattle community surrounding concerns on the use of force by the police as well as issues (of) integrity and honesty after video evidence captures interactions.”

Shoblom’s name surfaced earlier this year, when it was revealed she had exchanged sexually charged text messages with a sheriff’s sergeant, Dewey Burns, who was fired in April for sending racist and anti-gay texts, primarily to Shoblom.

Shoblom and two other female deputies filed a still-pending lawsuit in April against the Sheriff’s Office, alleging sexual harassment, bias and retaliation.

Outside attorneys hired by the Sheriff’s Office found no evidence of discrimination or hostile working conditions, except for supervisory failures on Burns’ part related to the sexually charged texts and other conduct.

Although Shoblom wasn’t found to have engaged in misconduct over the sexually and racially related texts, she received 20 days off without pay for sending insensitive comments about the use of lethal force.

Another deputy, Jesse Sorrells, received 30 days off without pay for his comments regarding lethal force and ethnic bias.