When Charles Gaither stepped down last month as King County’s civilian watchdog for the Sheriff’s Office, he complained that his efforts to bring change to department oversight were met with hostility and political maneuvering by his opponents.
The week he resigned as director of the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO), Gaither filed a $1 million claim against the county alleging he “was harassed and intimidated based upon my race.”
In the one page-claim, Gaither does not say how he was harassed and intimidated. “This resulted in severe stress and anxiety on me and those around me,” Gaither, who is black, wrote in the claim.
After his resignation, Gaither received $84,500 and his attorney $15,000 to settle the claim, Metropolitan King County Council spokesman Al Sanders explained Wednesday morning.
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Documents recently obtained by The Seattle Times describe Gaither as a man who created a work environment rife with hostility and accuse him of engaging in a pattern of inappropriate and combative behavior that drew repeated complaints from subordinates as well as from Sheriff John Urquhart. The documents include complaint letters, investigative reports, emails and letters to Gaither from the county’s Employment and Administration Committee (EAC).
The documents, obtained under the state’s Public Records Act, say Gaither’s behavior was the subject of multiple internal investigations, with one finding that he had directed “hostile and profane language” at Urquhart during a meeting. Another document reveals a former staff member filed a complaint saying she feared “for my safety and retaliation” from Gaither.
Another member of Gaither’s staff left the office by taking a “stress-related leave of absence” and did not return, claiming Gaither raised his voice at her and gave her unreasonable work deadlines.
King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, in a letter sent Sept. 2 to Gaither, accused him of being “disrespectful” toward Urquhart. Gossett, as chair of the EAC, said in the letter that Gaither “stood inappropriately near the Sheriff in a hostile manner” during a meeting in June and used “profane language.”
Gossett, in his Sept. 2 letter, wrote, “Your expressions of anger and the pattern of contentious interactions with your staff and other county officials make it necessary that you complete anger management counseling and supervisory and management training.”
There’s no documentation indicating that Gaither was sent to anger-management training before he resigned Sept. 5.
Gaither, who spoke at length with The Times the day before his resignation, declined to comment for this story. His lawyer, Jared Karstetter, did not return calls for comment.
During the earlier interview with The Times, Gaither said he had earned an unfair reputation for being “aggressive” and difficult to work with. He said there had been “political maneuvering” by unnamed opponents to get him to quit.
“It’s a difficult environment when you don’t have the capacity to compel change,” Gaither said in the interview. “This was not the best recipe for effective civilian oversight in law enforcement.”
The County Council approved an ordinance creating the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight in 2009, and Gaither was appointed its first director two years later. In his role, he reported directly to the council.
According to the oversight office’s website, its “primary role is to accept complaints against the Sheriff’s Office, monitor the investigation and resolution of all complaints, and determine if internal investigations are thorough and objective.”
Gaither, a former officer for the Los Angeles Police Department, was paid an annual salary of $157,237, according to a King County spokeswoman.
Earlier this month, after Gaither left the oversight office, OLEO investigative auditor Theresa “Tess” Mullarkey filed for a temporary protection order from Gaither in King County District Court, accusing him of stalking her even though he was no longer employed in the watchdog agency.
Mullarkey wrote that she sought the protection order after learning that on Aug. 16 and again on Sept. 19, Gaither logged onto a costly public-records platform paid for by the county to access her address, date of birth, Social Security number, information about her relatives and other personal data.
“As of Sept. 19, 2014 there have been approximately 103 searches performed by Mr. Gaither- NONE of which have been work related,” Mullarkey wrote in the protection order.
Mullarkey also wrote that part of her fear stems from the recent discovery by council staff that when he was employed, Gaither used his county credit card to buy more than $7,000 of “police tactical equipment.” The items included a rifle scope and a laser sight, Mullarkey wrote.
Even before she sought and obtained the protection order, Mullarkey wrote to Gossett, complaining that Gaither created a hostile work environment and that his explosive behavior led her to fear for her safety.
“Relating to a hostile environment, fear for my safety and retaliation,” Mullarkey wrote in a letter to Gossett on Aug. 1. “I have also spent $1,700 on security measures for my home and went to the Sheriff’s office to get in touch with the investigator who assesses threatening situations against King County employees, brought on by work related matters.”
Mullarkey, in the letter, reported that Gaither said Urquhart was inexperienced to lead his agency and called him an “idiot” and “stupid as hell.” She said Gaither also made disparaging comments about several County Council members.
Urquhart, in an email to The Times, described the June 9 meeting that resulted in his complaint against Gaither.
“I wanted to talk to him about conducting his own investigations, which is expressly prohibited by the OLEO ordinance. He denied he was. The meeting became contentious. Tempers flared. There were raised voices on each side. Then Charles got up from his chair and stood directly over me (while I was seated) in a threatening and hostile manner, and used profanity against me. I ended the meeting,” Urquhart wrote.
“The incident was investigated by the Council and apparently the conclusion was that it occurred as I described,” Urquhart wrote. “I’ve heard he was to receive 5 days off without pay but they settled with him and he resigned with his settlement check.”
Deleted data sought
After Gaither resigned, it was learned that he “deleted all files from his personal drive on his office computer,” Anne Noris, clerk for the Metropolitan King County Council, said in an email to The Times in response to a public-disclosure request for documents related to the internal investigation into Gaither.
Noris said technology staff managed to recover some data and are still completing the recovery effort. She said it might take until January for that information to be released.
Council Chairman Larry Phillips was choosing to withhold comment until he learns what was on Gaither’s hard drive, said Sanders, the council spokesman.
According to other documents obtained by the newspaper:
In July 2013, Councilmember Jane Hague, then EAC chairwoman, notified Gaither in a letter obtained by The Times that they were “considering discipline,” including a week off without pay, anger-management counseling or job training, after he repeatedly raised his voice at oversight-office employee Alejandra Calderon.
The EAC considers and makes recommendations to the council on issues related to employees, management, organizational structure and customer service provided by employees.
On Oct. 1, 2013, Gaither was notified by Hague, Gossett and council members Kathy Lambert and Julia Patterson in a letter that they were not going to impose discipline. Gaither was told, instead, that he needed to work with his boss, Gossett, on job training and a performance plan.
Last November, the county hired Henry Richards, a clinical and forensic psychologist, to provide Gaither with “executive coaching services.” In the contract, the county agreed to pay Richards up to $11,500 for his services.
Richards, in a letter to Gossett, said he met with Gaither for 7½ hours between Dec. 20 and Jan. 15.
“Mr. Gaither is cooperative, engaged and initiating of self-evaluation relevant to identifying targets for change,” Richards wrote.