The sheriff disagreed with several of the county ombudsman’s findings and defended how he handled the matter. He also questioned whether the ombudsman has authority to investigate his office.
The watchdog for King County government has found Sheriff John Urquhart had a conflict of interest and violated department rules and procedures when he ordered his internal-affairs squad not to investigate a former deputy’s allegations that she had been raped by Urquhart years earlier.
The county’s ombudsman’s office, in a 21-page report issued Aug. 8, also concluded Urquhart should have referred the woman’s allegations to “an outside local or state law enforcement authority for investigation” when he learned about them.
Urquhart’s conflict, paired with his internal-affairs squad’s failure to handle the matter as required by department policy, led to “an appearance that they sought to prevent proper scrutiny of the complainant’s allegations,” the report found.
The ombudsman recommended the sheriff establish a new policy requiring an independent expert be appointed to investigate such serious complaints against the sheriff or top commanders, should any arise in the future.
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Urquhart, in a nine-page response letter, disagreed with several of the findings and continued to defend how he handled the matter. He also questioned whether the ombudsman has authority to investigate his office.
Still, Urquhart generally agreed to accept the report’s findings, “to move forward.” His letter said he has asked his staff “to start exploring” best practices for addressing complaints directed at the sheriff.
“As I have said, in many forums and for several months, I believed I had legitimate reasons to make the decision I did,” Urquhart wrote. “I currently believe the matter has been investigated and no further administrative investigation is necessary. Nonetheless, I am sensitive to and understand the concerns raised by the Ombudsman in this report, as well as others, and support adopting policies and procedures that help alleviate those concerns.”
A spokesman for the sheriff didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Urquhart, 69, has vociferously denied that he raped or had a consensual affair with his accuser, a former deputy whom he supervised 15 years ago. Prosecutors announced in April that Urquhart wouldn’t face charges, finding insufficient evidence existed to support the woman’s claims and that the statute of limitations had expired.
The allegations emerged publicly last year as part of a separate lawsuit alleging workplace bias, filed against the sheriff and some of his top associates.
In June 2016, the woman went to the FBI, claiming Urquhart sexually assaulted her after a night of drinking in 2002. An FBI agent reviewed the claims for potential federal violations, found none and informed the sheriff’s internal-affairs squad about them. After the squad’s commander informed Urquhart about the claims, the sheriff instructed him not to document them, the commander later testified in a deposition for the lawsuit.
Urquhart denies that, contending he only told the commander he didn’t think it was necessary to document the woman’s claims because the FBI had already found them not to be credible.
But the ombudsman found the FBI had reviewed the matter only for federal criminal aspects, and that the commander “reasonably understood that Sheriff Urquhart had directed him not to document the complainant’s allegations,” as protocol required.
Urquhart’s accuser, who has acknowledged grappling with chronic mental-health issues, eventually reported the allegations to Seattle police. Officers who took her report in November dismissed her as delusional, but the department opened a criminal investigation — and an internal probe into how the officers handled the report — after The Seattle Times asked about the case in January.
The police investigation ultimately found that even if the woman had reported the matter in 2002, “it would not have resulted in charges being filed for rape, because (the woman) recalled all aspects of the sex, which indicates she was not incapacitated at the time of the event,” according to a detective’s summary.
During the investigation, the detective interviewed a 25-year sheriff’s deputy who said he witnessed the woman and Urquhart “making out” before dropping them off at the woman’s apartment on the night in question. The detective also sought to interview another deputy who was at the woman’s apartment when the woman and Urquhart arrived, but that deputy “declined to be interviewed,” records show.
Urquhart disputes the account the first deputy gave to police about that evening.
Sheriff’s Office policies identify personal relationships between supervisors and subordinates as a conflict of interest, and say deputies cannot “withhold … evidence of any kind in any criminal or administrative investigation.”
The Sheriff’s Office finally logged the woman’s allegations into its internal-complaint database in January, based on the initial Seattle police report dismissing her claims. However, the Sheriff’s Office has not conducted an internal investigation of the matter.
Urquhart’s response letter to the ombudsman indicates he doesn’t plan further reviews.
The primary recommendation made by the ombudsman — empowered under county law to investigate “any administrative act” by any county administrative agency — echoes a suggestion made to Urquhart months earlier in a letter from the union representing high-ranking commanders. In February, the Puget Sound Police Managers’ Association requested Urquhart have the allegations “investigated by an independent authority.”
Urquhart later publicly criticized the union’s letter — and a subsequent unfair-labor- practices complaint filed by the union that references his handling of the rape claim, among various allegations — as politically motivated.
The ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding; they remain up to the independently elected sheriff to implement. Still, Senior Deputy Ombudsman Jonathan Stier, who wrote the report, said his office believes Urquhart will implement them “in the public’s interest” and plans to track the sheriff’s progress.
In his response, Urquhart criticized a closing statement in the ombudsman’s draft report saying the sheriff’s handling of the matter raised questions about his “commitment to ensure the high standards of the law enforcement profession are maintained.” Urquhart called the sentence “inaccurate and unfair” and asked it be reworded or removed from the final report.
Ombudsman Amy Calderwood agreed to delete the sentence, but replied to Urquhart that her office is “concerned that your letter continues to defend your past decisions in this matter and that you accepted our findings only ‘to move forward.’ ”