After a former deputy recently alleged King County Sheriff John Urquhart raped her 14 years ago, Urquhart directed his investigators not to document her complaint, according to sworn testimony. Urquhart denies the woman’s claim and says the FBI had found it not credible.
Recently filed documents in a lawsuit contend King County Sheriff John Urquhart directed his department’s internal investigations squad not to formally document a woman’s allegation this year that he raped her 14 years ago, despite department protocols that require such claims to be recorded and reviewed.
The woman — a former sheriff’s deputy — reported the alleged 2002 rape to the FBI in June, and a detective with the Internal Investigations Unit later became aware of her claim when an FBI agent inquired about it.
After learning of the allegation, then-sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Mike Mullinax notified his supervisor, Capt. Jesse Anderson, according to both men’s sworn depositions given in October as part of an ongoing lawsuit against King County alleging discrimination against female deputies.
In turn, the two investigators told Urquhart about the rape allegation, and Anderson asked if he wanted it entered into Blue Team, the department’s computer system that formally tracks personnel misconduct complaints.
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“I asked the sheriff if he would like this documented in Blue Team and he said no,” Anderson reported in notes he took about the conversation.
It was the second time Urquhart had directed investigators to ignore allegations he had had sexual contact with the woman, Anderson testified in his deposition. Another deputy had complained in 2014 that Urquhart had a consensual affair with the same woman while he was her supervisor.
Urquhart’s chief of staff later advised investigators the sheriff didn’t want them to document that complaint, Anderson said.
By not formally documenting such personnel complaints, they essentially die with no record and “that squashes an investigation, too,” Mullinax said in his deposition.
Urquhart, 69, who is married and won election in 2013 on a platform of bringing accountability to the Sheriff’s Office, vehemently denies the woman’s rape allegation as well as the purported affair. In a formal response filed in court Dec. 5, the sheriff described the woman as a longtime friend who consistently has supported him.
“For more than a decade, there have been rumors at KCSO (the King County Sheriffs Office) that this person and I had an affair,” Urquhart said in a sworn declaration. “We have both always denied that allegation because it is false.”
Urquhart also has pointed to the woman’s mental-health history in his rebuttal to her claims. In a binder of records he personally delivered to The Seattle Times in October — before the rape allegation became public in the lawsuit — Urquhart noted the FBI “did not plan any follow-up on the allegations since (the woman) did not sound credible, alluded to being followed by the CIA, and appeared to have mental issues.”
The FBI acknowledged in a statement this month it reviewed the matter for “possible federal criminal violations,” but declined further action. The agency shared the information with Urquhart’s department to handle at its discretion.
The woman, who was fired by the sheriff’s office 12 years ago after she’d been diagnosed with mild bipolar disorder, freely acknowledged in an interview with The Seattle Times that she has mental-health problems that she manages.
Details about the woman’s rape allegation emerged in court papers filed recently as part of the ongoing lawsuit against King County by Sgt. Diana Neff, a deputy, and former deputies Amy Shoblom and Louis Caballero, who were fired by Urquhart. Among other claims, their lawsuit alleges Urquhart and other high-ranking sheriff’s commanders have engaged in a pattern of hostility, discrimination and harassment against female deputies, and retaliation against those who complain.
The county contends the suit has no merit, asserting Neff, who allegedly was secretly investigated and reluctantly transferred out of the Shoreline precinct, and the other two Metro Transit deputies, who were fired for dishonesty, were treated appropriately.
Attorneys for the county tried to get the lawsuit tossed out of court this month, but a judge denied their motion for summary judgment and ruled the case should go to trial.
The department’s handling of the woman’s rape claim was among several examples offered in court filings by the plaintiffs’ attorneys to illustrate Urquhart’s alleged pattern of meddling in internal department probes as a way to settle personal scores and retaliate.
He also testified he didn’t “direct” his investigators not to document the woman’s rape allegation, but only suggested that recording it wasn’t necessary because the FBI had found it not credible, and because no complaint was filed directly with his department.
The sheriff, who has filed paperwork to run for re-election next year, also acknowledged he had concerns for his and the woman’s reputations if her rape claim became public.
“I saw no reason to let that happen because it never — the incident never happened,” he said in the deposition.
Deputy in Burien
The woman claiming Urquhart raped her is not a party to the lawsuit. Now 42, she worked as a deputy in the Burien precinct when the alleged incident occurred in November 2002. Urquhart was her supervisor then.
The woman agreed to offer details during interviews with The Seattle Times, but she asked not to be identified. The Times typically does not name victims of alleged or proven sexual assault without their permission.
The woman claims the rape occurred after she and several other sheriff’s employees, including Urquhart, went drinking in a Pioneer Square bar one night. The woman said after she became extremely intoxicated, Urquhart accompanied her back to her Belltown apartment and took advantage of her. The woman said she was incoherent and did not consent to sex.
The next day, the woman said, she went to Virginia Mason’s emergency room for treatment of nausea and vomiting but didn’t inform anyone about the alleged rape then or later at work. She said she kept on friendly terms with Urquhart because she feared him.
“I just wanted it all to go away,” she said. “I didn’t want any problems. He was my boss, and I already had enough to deal with just working there.”
The Sheriff’s Office labeled the woman unfit for duty and fired her in late 2004 — shortly after she sought time off to manage newly prescribed medications for her longtime diagnosis of mild bipolar disorder. The county’s termination letter noted the woman’s condition was “ongoing and permanent” and “can intermittently affect memory, intellectual and social judgment, insight and anger management.”
The woman’s own psychiatrist adamantly disagreed with the department’s decision to fire her.
Court records, correspondence
In October — before the rape allegation became public — Urquhart hand-delivered to The Times a binder with information about his accuser that included a background memo, various court records and his correspondence with her over years after the rape purportedly occurred. The sheriff provided the information about the woman unsolicited, as part of his response to questions about different allegations raised in the lawsuit.
The correspondence shows camaraderie between the two, and Urquhart enlisted the woman’s help in his campaign for sheriff.
In an April 2012 email, the woman expressed anger to Urquhart about rumors of “our alleged affair” in a conversation about potential problems for his planned sheriff’s campaign, and in a card she sent after his election in 2013, she wrote: “John — Congrats on your win for King County Sheriff. Not only was this earned but this is well deserved!”
Urquhart also offered transcripts of a deposition the woman gave in 2006 as part of her own wrongful-termination suit against King County, and of an interview she had with internal investigators in 2003, when several women deputies alleged Urquhart was sexist and hostile toward them. The woman spoke supportively of Urquhart in both statements.
During the 2006 deposition taken during her lawsuit against the county, the woman noted Urquhart had given her a job reference after the Sheriff’s Office fired her. King County ultimately paid the woman $125,000 to settle her suit.
After her firing, the woman moved out of state and married. She acknowledged she has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and previously abused alcohol and prescription drugs.
The woman returned to Seattle about two years ago. She is now divorcing her husband and no longer drinks or uses drugs, she said. During therapy, the woman said, she has come to realize Urquhart has been manipulating her for years. She said she went to the FBI in June to report the rape because she is fearful of him and tired of lying.
“It was time to finally just stop the lying and deal with what actually happened and who John actually is,” she said.
Reporting claims years after a rape allegedly occurred can make it difficult or impossible to bring criminal charges under Washington’s statute of limitations, prosecutors and victims’ advocates say.
Still, “it’s very common for victims to come forward days, months, even years later,” said Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center.
Such a delay in reporting “doesn’t mean the offense never occurred,” Stone said.
FBI contacts office
After the woman reported the rape, FBI Special Agent Ryan Bruett contacted Mullinax, the Sheriff’s Internal Investigations Unit sergeant, to ask if Mullinax knew anything about the woman. The agent also told Mullinax he “was concerned about her possible mental state,” Mullinax testified in his deposition.
Mullinax later told Bruett he felt obligated to inform the sheriff about the allegation. The FBI initially asked Mullinax not to, but relented.
“So the discussion was that, ‘Look, we’re not going to do anything more with this under the circumstances, and the way that Ryan (Bruett) had written it up,’ ” Mullinax testified Bruett’s supervisor had told him. “However, if the sheriff reaches out to (the woman) and makes any comments to her, it could prompt a formal investigation.”
If such a contact occurred, it might appear Urquhart was interfering with the FBI review, Mullinax testified. Mullinax and Anderson soon informed Urquhart about the allegation and what could happen if the sheriff contacted the woman.
Anderson also testified Urquhart told him not to document the rape claim. It wasn’t the first time Urquhart had directed investigators not to record a complaint that he’d had sexual contact with the woman, Anderson said. Another deputy previously had written a separate complaint that alleged Urquhart had engaged in an affair with the woman while Urquhart supervised her, he said.
“(T)he sheriff had directed us not to do anything with that complaint,” Anderson said during his deposition.
Both Anderson and Mullinax acknowledged they believe the woman’s rape allegation should have been documented. The department’s “General Orders Manual” indicates when supervisors learn of a complaint — defined as “an allegation of misconduct against an employee received from any source” — they should “immediately enter it into Blue Team” for follow up.
Two other deputies — Capt. Donald Nesel, a former Internal Investigations Unit (IIU) supervisor for Urquhart, and Sgt. Katie Larson, who also worked as an investigator in the squad — asserted in court statements that department protocols require such a serious allegation to be formally logged and reviewed.
“I was disturbed by the fact that the Sheriff refuses to be held accountable to the same rules as all other members of the department,” Larson’s declaration said. “Based upon my experience in IIU, it is clear to me that this rape allegation against the Sheriff should be investigated and documented.”