One victim, a female officer, said she waited to report Officer John Knight’s conduct because she was fearful of his power and was afraid she could lose her job.
Invoking recent sexual-harassment allegations leveled at high-profile men, a King County judge on Friday sentenced a veteran Seattle police officer to 12 months of probation after he was accused of groping three department employees.
John Knight, 52, who joined the department in 1990, pleaded guilty last month to one count of fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor in which he admitted he intentionally touched all three victims in an offensive and unwanted manner between October 2014 and August 2016.
He was originally charged with three counts of fourth-degree assault, including two with sexual motivation.
In addition to probation, Superior Court Judge Susan Amini sentenced Knight to the maximum 364 days in jail that was suspended on condition he have no future criminal violations and no contact with the victims.
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Amini rejected a request from Knight’s attorney to impose a deferred sentence, which would have allowed the conviction to be lifted if Knight followed the court’s conditions.
All three victims — Officer Amber McLeod, Officer Brad Johnson and administrative assistant Victoria James — urged Amini to reject that option during emotional remarks to the court, in which they spoke painfully and graphically about what happened to them.
“He had power over me, and he knew it,” James told the judge.
The Seattle Times doesn’t normally name sexual-assault victims, but the three gave permission through their attorney.
The allegations came to light during an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) investigation last year into the conduct of Knight, who worked in the department’s Training and Education Section, according to Seattle police.
During the investigation, Knight was administratively reassigned to his home.
With the criminal case over, the investigation will be completed promptly, the department said Friday in a statement, adding Knight remains on administrative leave.
“The Department is committed to maintaining a safe and equitable workplace for all our employees,” the statement says. “Harassment in any form will not be tolerated.”
Knight faces potential discipline up to termination.
The three victims complained about Knight to their lieutenant in August 2016, according to charging documents filed in the case.
This week, they filed a claim against the city, alleging Knight’s conduct was “foreseeable and preventable” based on at least two prior EEO investigations by 2009 that raised sexual-harassment concerns.
Damages could collectively exceed $5 million, according to the claim filed by their attorney, Cheryl Snow, who said the city has 60 days to resolve the matter or face a lawsuit.
Knight didn’t address the allegations during Friday’s hearing, but his attorney, Eric Makus, said although there was more to the case, his client pleaded guilty to avoid a trial that would be replete with “salaciousness,” and regretted his actions.
“The idea that he has gotten away with anything is so, so far from the truth, your honor,” Makus said, citing the damage to Knight’s name and further proceedings.
Judge Amini told Knight that he found himself, these days, “in the company of several other people, some prominent, some well-known names” who have faced similar allegations. She noted three people had come forward in his case.
McLeod, in her comments to the judge, said she was “scared and tormented” by Knight, who told her “nothing would ever happen to him.”
“I hear his name, and I shake with fear and anxiety,” McLeod said.
According to charging documents, she reported that after Knight appeared friendly and helped her with a work issue, he began unwanted physical contact by rubbing her shoulders, telling her she owed him.
Knight progressed to putting his hand down her shirt, as well as groping her buttocks, saying, “if you just let me do it, it would get over with more quickly,” the documents say.
When she objected, he again would say, “you owe me,” according to the documents.
During a training session, Knight simulated sex with her, she recounted, explaining she waited to report his conduct because she was fearful of his power and afraid she could lose her job.
James reported that Knight initially seemed like a “nice guy,” but then began commenting on her appearance and groped her buttocks about 40 times, according to the documents.
Knight told her it would be “over soon” if she let it happen, James said.
She said she didn’t immediately report the behavior because, as a temporary employee at that time, she feared losing her job and felt Knight had a lot of power, the documents say.
Johnson reported that Knight groped his buttocks on at least four occasions, despite being told to stop, and grabbed his crotch at least four times.
According to the documents, Johnson said he saw Knight grab women on the buttocks and, after one groping, remark to no one in particular, “what can I say, I’m a predator.”
At one point, Johnson related, he changed his mind about filing a complaint because he knew of a previous complaint against Knight that had gone nowhere, the documents say.
In court Friday, Johnson said Knight once told him, “It’s a disease, I can’t help it.”