Former state prisons Director Eldon Vail said he resigned suddenly Friday after learning that a video apparently documenting his affair with a subordinate might be made public.

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Former state prisons Director Eldon Vail said he resigned suddenly Friday after learning that a video apparently documenting his affair with a subordinate might be made public.

Vail, in an interview Tuesday, said he heard rumors within the Department of Corrections headquarters Friday about a shaky, handheld video that appears to show him and a woman leaving a motel near Olympia in separate cars.

Vail, 59, said he had not seen the video, nor did he know who would have made it, or why. But he acknowledged he did have an affair with an employee and that it was “inappropriate.”

The rumors swirling through DOC forced him to make a decision, he said.

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“Once I became aware of that possibility, I knew I had only one choice, and that was to resign,” Vail said. He resigned effective immediately late Friday, after more than three years as corrections secretary.

“This is no one’s fault but my own,” he said. “It’s not the employee’s fault. It is not my wife’s fault.”

The undated video was sent to several Seattle television stations late last week, apparently by an anonymous source, but no station aired it.

Shot through a rain-splattered car windshield, the video shows a man who appears to be Vail and a woman walking to their vehicles in the motel parking lot. One of the vehicles matches Vail’s white pickup.

The video was provided to KING-TV by people who identified themselves as DOC employees.

DOC spokesman Chad Lewis said he did not get calls from reporters about the video until after Vail had resigned late Friday. Lewis said the agency did not know if the video was taken by an employee. No internal investigation was planned “at this point,” he said.

Vail said he had not spoken with Gov. Chris Gregoire, but that he told her chief of staff he planned to resign, and why.

“His resignation is an absolute shock to the governor,” spokeswoman Karina Shagren said.

Gregoire appointed Prisons Director Bernie Warner to take over as acting secretary.

Vail declined to speak about the female employee, a manager, or specify how long the relationship had lasted. There is no record of any sexual-harassment complaint against Vail, by the female employee or anyone else, according to DOC records.

The Seattle Times is not naming the woman to protect her privacy. A call left at her desk at DOC on Tuesday was not returned.

State law does not explicitly ban manager-employee relationships, but it does prohibit a state worker from having a conflict of interest — financial or otherwise — in doing their duties.

Melanie de Leon, executive director of the state Executive Ethics Board, said an interoffice relationship is ripe for potential violations, such as a manager granting extra time off or ignoring a disciplinary situation.

“We don’t like to say how you live your life, but it just screams conflict of interest right out of the chute,” de Leon said.

DOC policy allows for interoffice romances so long as the partners are not in the same chain of command. Vail said he did not grant the woman special benefits or privileges, and did not use state resources to conduct the affair.

“It is inappropriate to have a personal relationship” with a subordinate, Vail said. “That’s the only reason I resigned.”

Shagren, the governor’s spokeswoman, said there is no indication that Vail misused state resources.

Vail, who earned $147,000 a year, spent decades with the department before being called out of retirement in 2007 to become secretary.

As an eloquent spokesman for his agency, he oversaw the department through several rounds of budget cutting and the closure of McNeil Island Corrections Center.

He also implemented policy changes stemming from the 2009 shooting of four Lakewood police officers by a DOC-supervised felon and the death of corrections Officer Jayme Biendl in January.

Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, said Vail was “very respected” in the Legislature for leading the agency through budget cuts and the aftermath of the high-profile tragedies.

“DOC came through some pretty tough times in pretty good shape,” Hurst said.

Vail said he did not plan to speak publicly about the affair again. “I’m going to try to work that out with my wife,” he said.

Staff research Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605

or jmartin@seattletimes.com