King County Sheriff John Urquhart disagrees with the arbitrator’s decision, saying, “I believe the arbitrator got it wrong. I stand by my decision to terminate.”
The firing of a King County sheriff’s deputy — who was arrested in Newcastle on New Year’s Eve 2013 after being found asleep in his patrol car and showing signs of impairment — has been overturned by an arbitrator.
Arbitrator Michael Cavanaugh, in a decision issued last month, ordered that Deputy Whitney Richtmyer be reinstated and paid back wages.
Richtmyer has returned to duty and assigned to the records unit as a result of his appeal brought by the King County Police Officers Guild.
The deputy, who joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1998, was fired in July 2014 for violations involving criminal conduct and dishonest statements related to his actions the previous New Year’s Eve, as well as an investigation that found paperwork, including citations, in his car hadn’t been turned in over a four-year period.
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Richtmyer was taken into custody after a citizen called 911 to report the deputy was hunched over the steering wheel of his marked vehicle.
Alcohol wasn’t suspected, but a Bellevue police drug-recognition expert who was called to the scene believed the deputy was “under the influence of some sort of drug, possibly a narcotic,” a sheriff’s spokeswoman said after the arrest.
Blood drawn from the deputy was submitted to the State Patrol Toxicology Lab, which ran a standard screen on the sample and did not detect drugs, according to the Bellevue Police Department.
Because that finding was at odds with what the drug-recognition expert observed and the deputy’s alleged admission he’d taken prescription drugs during his shift, Bellevue police submitted a blood sample to a lab in Pennsylvania that conducts broader substance screenings.
Bellevue police said that new lab analysis had returned with a positive result for the presence of multiple prescription drugs, all of which have impairing qualities and carry warnings they are not to be used while operating machinery or vehicles.
In the arbitration decision, Cavanaugh disagreed with Sheriff John Urquhart’s finding that Richtmyer was physically in control of vehicle while impaired because the deputy had pulled safely off the roadway, as allowed under state law.
Consequently, Cavanaugh wrote, he didn’t need to resolve a dispute over whether Richtmyer was actually impaired.
Cavanaugh also found Richtmyer had not been dishonest about his use of medication, as well as other actions related to the incident.
“I agree that initial appearances in this case strongly suggested serious misconduct on the part of Deputy Richtmyer,” but “appearances” aren’t a sufficient basis for the firing of a law-enforcement officer protected under a collective-bargaining agreement, Cavanaugh found.
Cavanaugh ordered Richtmyer be issued a written reprimand for the paperwork violations in lieu of termination, calling his actions sloppy and procrastination but not deliberate. Termination was too severe, particularly when compared with the prior discipline of another deputy in a similar case, he wrote.
He upheld Urquhart’s written reprimands for sleeping on duty and similar conduct that occurred after the incident.
During the arbitration proceedings, the guild said Richtmyer was diagnosed with a sleep disorder after the incident for which he is being treated.
Urquhart, in a statement, said: “Under the collective bargaining agreement, the police union has an opportunity to take discipline cases to an outside arbitrator, which was done in this case. I certainly respect the process, but I believe the arbitrator got it wrong. I stand by my decision to terminate.”