For months, a court fight enabled by King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg has blocked release of records of an unprosecuted sexual assault allegation against Eastside Catholic high school football players. This lack of disclosure sidestepped the state Public Records Act, wastes judicial resources and evades the public’s right to assess government decisions.
Satterberg must be held accountable for his resistance to transparency. By stalling the release of the records to give those who were investigated time to intervene in the disclosure to The Seattle Times, he showed disregard for open and equitable governance. Satterberg defends his actions by citing “an ethical obligation to notify third parties when we expect there will be a reasonable basis for arguing the release of records,” a practice that has been upheld in court.
The decision not to prosecute the athletes may well have been correct, even though the facts are shocking. A 16-year-old girl reported sexual assaults by multiple Eastside Catholic players as they rode in a pickup truck during what she said began as a night of drinking in April 2018. Police said four players admitted to what they claimed were consensual sex acts with her. A fifth Eastside player and an athlete from a different school claimed they did not participate. Clyde Hill police investigated for months, including multiple search warrants. They handed a thick file to prosecutors, who declined to bring a case.
Despite the lack of criminal charges, the case has had profound consequences for multiple lives. The girl left her school. Stanford University requested the records, then pulled the scholarship of star Eastside athlete Ayden Hector and revoked his admission even though he’s described by prosecutors as a witness, not a suspect. Two alleged participants are now under investigation by the universities of Washington and California, Berkeley, where they received scholarships.
Satterberg’s decision merits a full public explanation, yet he has flouted legal requirements for transparency.
Even though prosecutors followed the law in turning over case records to KING 5 in January 2019, Satterberg’s office delayed fulfillment of a later request for the same records by Seattle Times reporter Geoff Baker. This delay was needless. The 521-page file was already cleared for disclosure before the television station got it. But dragging feet on the newspaper’s request allowed the athletes’ lawyers a new opportunity to fight the disclosure — in effect, favoring one requester over another. Favoritism in disclosure is banned by law.
And now the issue is tied up in the justice system even after King County Superior Court Judge Ken Schubert found a “legitimate interest in scrutinizing how agencies handled the investigation.” Schubert was right, but the issue has been appealed, further delaying the release.
Satterberg could have prevented this muddle by promptly releasing what The Times requested. The matter is out of his hands now, but his actions must not be forgotten. Twenty years ago, Satterberg was a top prosecutor deeply involved in granting extraordinary breaks to troubled UW football star Jerramy Stevens. When a woman accused Stevens of rape, county prosecutors agreed to the unusual step of providing police evidence to Stevens’ attorneys before interviewing Stevens. That case was never charged. The public deserves to know if the justice system functioned properly this time. Only disclosure can reveal the truth.