Prosecutor Mark Roe agreed probable cause existed that a crime was committed, but found alleged groping didn’t meet a felony charging standard and a deadline to charge the “most applicable” misdemeanor offense had passed.
Prosecutors won’t file criminal charges against King County Sheriff John Urquhart based on a former deputy’s claim that Urquhart groped him outside a Renton restaurant in 2014.
Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe wrote Friday he has decided not to file a criminal case after his review of a two-month Renton police investigation that found probable cause that Urquhart allegedly committed a potential sex crime against Brian Barnes.
Roe, in a letter to the case investigator explaining his legal reasoning, said he agreed probable cause had been met to consider charges, but he determined the alleged groping did not rise to the legal standard for a felony indecent-liberties charge, and the statute of limitations had passed on the alternative gross misdemeanor charge of assault with sexual motivation.
An indecent-liberties charge would require proof of “forcible compulsion,” but Roe noted that by Barnes’ own account to the investigator, he was “completely successful in rebuffing the brief physical contact” so the alleged groping didn’t rise to that charge’s legal standard.
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“I simply don’t believe, even if one accepts that everything the alleged victim says as true, the alleged actions of Mr. Urquhart constitute that very serious, violent, Class A felony sex offense,” Roe wrote in his letter.
Urquhart, who lost his re-election bid in November, has denied the allegations and called them politically motivated to sabotage his campaign. He is suing Barnes for defamation.
In a statement Friday, Urquhart said: “As I have said all along, what was alleged never occurred. A polygraph proved as much. It is unfortunate, but not coincidental, that the accusation came out so close to the election. As Mark Twain said, ‘A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.’”
Barnes did not respond Friday to requests for comment.
The prosecutor noted he reviewed the case based on legal standards and did not weigh in on whether he believed Barnes’ allegation.
“That decision absolutely does not mean that I either believed or disbelieved the alleged victim, nor does it mean I accepted or rejected Mr. Urquhart’s version of events,” Roe wrote. “ It means that we aren’t going to file any criminal charges. That’s all it means.”
Roe’s decision comes after he spent about three weeks reviewing Renton police Commander Daniel Figaro’s two-month investigation into Barnes’ allegation against Urquhart. King County prosecutors referred the case to Roe, who formerly prosecuted sexual-assault cases, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Renton police launched the criminal probe of Urquhart after Barnes formally complained to the Sheriff’s Office in September that the sheriff grabbed his crotch in the parking lot of the Yankee Grill following a March 2014 dinner meeting to discuss Barnes’ concerns about his supervisors.
Until about that time, Urquhart and Barnes had been friends, and Barnes had won praise and multiple commendations for his police work. But records show Barnes and the sheriff’s administration traded serious allegations during the latter part of 2014. Saddled with multiple misconduct allegations, Barnes ultimately was placed on administrative leave in late November.
Barnes, 49, now a college-campus police officer in Massachusetts, resigned as a sheriff’s deputy in 2015, after King County agreed to pay him more than $160,000 as part of an unusual settlement that failed to receive a required approval from King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Barnes has claimed the misconduct allegations against him were drummed up by Urquhart. He also contends the county’s settlement with him amounted to “hush money” under a legal agreement that was deliberately structured to avoid scrutiny and aimed to silence his attempts to expose wrongdoing in the Sheriff’s Office.
The county’s risk-management director has said the failure to get Constantine’s approval was a mistake, and Urquhart claims the negotiation with Barnes simply aimed to oust him from the Sheriff’s Office. Urquhart has described Barnes as “an organizational terrorist,” with a history of making false allegations against his superiors and other officers that he perceives to have crossed him.
Figaro wrote in a nine-page probable-cause affidavit that the former deputy gave consistent accounts about the alleged incident during several interviews on the phone and in person. Barnes also told the investigator he had informed his priest about the alleged groping about a week after it occurred, and had suggested “Urquhart had done something to him” to a former sheriff’s detective 12 to 18 months ago.
Barnes also said he told an active sheriff’s captain about Urquhart’s alleged groping this year, according to Figaro’s probable-cause affidavit.
Under Washington law, the charge of indecent liberties can be prosecuted for up to 10 years if the offender is a “public officer” who committed the crime in connection with official duties. The two-year limit to charge the crime of assault with sexual motivation, a gross misdemeanor, would have lapsed in late March 2016.
Roe praised Figaro’s investigation as “skillfully handled,” fair and thorough, and he noted the decision not to file charges “will do nothing to quell the intense media interest, speculation, and conjecture surrounding the incident and those involved.”
The decision not to charge Urquhart marks the second favorable legal action for the sheriff this week. On Monday, a former female deputy who last year accused Urquhart of raping her 15 years earlier dropped her pursuit of a sexual-assault protection order against him.
Urquhart has vehemently denied assaulting or having consensual sex with the woman, and this week, he said in a statement that her pursuit of a court order appeared to be politically timed to last month’s election. The woman denies that and says she plans to file a new anti-harassment petition.
King County prosecutors announced in April that Urquhart wouldn’t face charges on the rape claim after an investigation found the alleged sex appeared consensual.
Urquhart, 70, was soundly defeated in the sheriff’s race by longtime sheriff’s deputy Mitzi Johanknecht, who will take office in January.
The status of a separate Sheriff’s Office administrative investigation of Barnes’ groping complaint was unknown as of Friday afternoon, a department spokeswoman said.