King County will pay $1.35 million to settle a lawsuit by one current and two former deputies that exposed a variety of high-profile misconduct claims against Sheriff John Urquhart and some of his top commanders.

Share story

King County will pay $1.35 million to settle a lawsuit by one current and two former deputies that exposed a variety of high-profile misconduct claims against Sheriff John Urquhart and some of his top commanders.

“This puts a close to a very painful chapter in my clients’ lives,” said Julie Kays, the Seattle lawyer who represented the plaintiffs. “But more than the money, they’re most proud of the fact that they’ve exposed the sheriff for who he really is.”

She added: “I think it’s high time that the Department of Justice look seriously at the pattern and practices — especially toward women, minorities and gay people — in this department.”

Urquhart, who has denied the various allegations raised in the suit, said in a news release Tuesday he wanted to take the case to trial.

“I did not take part in the negotiations because I was adamantly opposed to any settlement before trial,” his statement said.

As of mid-January, King County had spent nearly $1 million in private attorney’s fees to defend against the lawsuit.

Filed in 2014, the lawsuit was brought by Sgt. Diana Neff, a deputy who was involuntarily transferred from Shoreline to Maple Valley, and by Amy Shoblom and Louis Caballero, two deputies who were fired for dishonesty over a claim they filed against a Metro bus driver that turned out to be false.

All three alleged they were targeted for retaliation after complaining about gender and sexual harassment, and other discrimination in the workplace.

“Female officers are expected to sit back and take it when it comes to: derogatory and sexist remarks made about being a woman in law enforcement, sexual harassment in the workplace, offensive and crude remarks about women, and basic good old boy attitudes toward women in general,” the suit contended.

Along with the central claims, a number of other misconduct allegations surfaced against the sheriff and some of his top administrators over months of discovery and depositions with various deputies.

The allegations included such disparate claims as that Urquhart bullied his internal-affairs squad members; that his chief of staff omitted details in a hiring questionnaire and failed a polygraph exam; and that Urquhart directed internal investigators not to document or investigate a former deputy’s assertions that he raped her in 2002.

Urquhart, 69, who is running for re-election this year, has denied the allegations.

Prosecutors announced this week that an investigation of the rape claims found the statute of limitations for criminal charges has lapsed and yielded insufficient evidence to bring charges anyway. Last month, the King County Ombudsman issued findings that Urquhart “truthfully certified” that his chief of staff, Chris Barringer, had met requirements to attend the state’s police academy.

Kays, who worked the case with co-counsel, Lincoln Beauregard, said the settlement was agreed upon in mediation last week after being stalled for months. She credited King County Executive Dow Constantine for taking charge of the settlement talks and for excluding Urquhart from the negotiating table.

“I think that once an adult could actually assess the proper risks of this litigation and took the person who was presumably responsible for all this out of the discussions, they saw what we saw: That this would not go well at trial,” she said.

Urquhart, whose statement acknowledged he didn’t support the settlement, said it “denigrates the anguish suffered by a Metro bus driver who was targeted by deputies.”

“The public deserves to have all the facts laid out publicly where everyone would be forced to testify and be subject to cross-examination under oath, including myself. Now that will not happen,” he added.

Two of the plaintiffs, Shoblom and Caballero, were fired after they filed a complaint against Metro bus driver Kelvin Kirkpatrick, claiming that he swore at them when confronting the deputies about not removing sleeping passengers from his bus.

An investigation later determined the two had colluded when writing reports about the incident. Kirkpatrick also was wearing Google glasses that videotaped the interaction and proved what the deputies said in their statements was false.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Kirkpatrick said he was “disheartened” by word of the settlement.

“It’s pretty much telling other deputies that if you’re dishonest and have no work ethic, you get rewarded for it,” he said. “It sends a bad message. It really does.”

Though he wanted to take the case to trial, Urquhart said he understood how a jury could see otherwise, and therefore the desire by King County to mitigate that risk. Urquhart noted that Kays and Beauregard recently won a jury verdict of more than $3 million against the city of Seattle.