All three are veteran law-enforcement officers. Two have had controversial incidents in their professional or personal lives. The other's management decisions...

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All three are veteran law-enforcement officers. Two have had controversial incidents in their professional or personal lives. The other’s management decisions are being criticized by her peers.


The backdrop to the contentious campaign for King County sheriff has drawn a focus on the backgrounds of incumbent Sue Rahr and challengers Greg Schmidt, a longtime Seattle police officer, and James Fuda, Sheriff’s Office sergeant.


Along with pushing their professional records, the candidates find themselves answering questions about perceptions and their pasts. Schmidt’s domestic-violence arrest, Fuda’s diploma from a bogus online university and his covering up for another officer, and Rahr’s reputation as a controlling manager all have become part of the campaign for sheriff.


Rahr, who was appointed sheriff in January after Dave Reichert was elected to Congress, has moved way ahead of the challengers in fund raising with more than $100,000 to Schmidt’s $10,000 and Fuda’s $50,000.


The top two finishers in next week’s primary will advance to the general election in November.


Greg Schmidt


Sue Rahr, 48


Residence: Bellevue

Occupation: King County sheriff, appointed in January after Dave Reichert was elected to Congress


Personal: Grew up in Bellevue, graduated with a police-science degree from Washington State University; married with two sons


Background: Joined King County Sheriff’s Office in 1979, moved quickly through the ranks, worked in the gang, drug and sexual-assault units, special operations and internal investigations and was the Shoreline chief of police


Top endorsements: King County GOP Executive Committee; Gov. Christine Gregoire; former state Sen. Dino Rossi; 5th, 37th, 41st, 43rd District Democrats


Campaign Web site: www.suerahr.com


Jim Fuda, 52


Residence: Seattle


Occupation: King County sheriff’s sergeant, Special Operations


Personal: Grew up in Seattle and served in the Army during the Vietnam War. Received a two-year degree from Highline Community College; divorced with two grown children.


Background: Joined Sheriff’s Office 32 years ago, becoming a top hostage negotiator; he coordinates dignitary protection, search-and-rescue operations and other services. Consultant to the Dartmouth Medical School Interactive Media Laboratory’s counterterrorism training program.


Top endorsements: King County Police Guild


Campaign Web site: www.jimfuda.com


Greg Schmidt, 42


Residence: Unincorporated King County near Renton


Occupation: Seattle police lieutenant


Personal: Married with four children


Background: Grew up in Spokane, graduated from the University of Washington, taught school in Shoreline and in 1986 joined the Seattle Police Department. He was among the first to work in the department’s new domestic-violence unit. He campaigns for “gender equality” in how police and prosecutors handle domestic cases and is a national speaker on the subject; patrol commander during the 1999 World Trade Organization riots, narcotics-unit commander.


Top endorsements: International Union of Painters & Allied Trades; 11th District Republicans; 32nd, 36th and 47th District Democrats.


Campaign Web site: www.schmidtforsheriff.com


“Of all the candidates, I’m the only one who has not been disciplined,” says Schmidt, of Renton.


While that is true, Schmidt is also the only one of the candidates who has faced a criminal charge — domestic violence — or who has sued the Sheriff’s Office, for the way it handled that case. Although he eventually was acquitted, he has had to answer questions about the incident and its aftermath.


Schmidt is also the candidate who is most critical of the Sheriff’s Office, insisting that changes are necessary to make it more accountable.


In addition to his police work, Schmidt runs Families First of Washington — a nonprofit that “helps families in turmoil,” including men accused of domestic violence.


Although Schmidt started Families First in the 1990s, it’s still a fledgling advocacy organization without a budget or full-time staff. Among many things, it helps those facing domestic-violence charges to get the charges reduced or dismissed or to restore visitation with children, he said.


In 1998, Schmidt’s then-wife, Sherry Huff, accused him of pulling her down the stairs by her finger and placing her in a chokehold. Schmidt accused Huff of biting him on the arm and called police. The Sheriff’s Office investigated and, despite Schmidt’s insistence that he was the victim, arrested the Seattle police officer.


But during the trial Huff, who already had testified, wrote a letter to the judge asking that her testimony be discounted. She urged that Schmidt not be held to any higher standard just because he was a police officer and said prosecutors had pressured her to testify.


The Renton District Court jury acquitted Schmidt of domestic-violence assault in less than an hour.


Afterward, Schmidt requested that the King County prosecutor charge Huff with assault and perjury. When the prosecutor declined, he sued the Sheriff’s Office and Huff, from whom he is now divorced.


In the lawsuit, Schmidt maintained that the prosecutor hid Huff’s dental records, which he claimed would have shown that she had not bitten him to free herself from a chokehold, as she testified, but instead bit him in an attack. The deputy prosecutor denied there ever was a dental record, and in May 2002 a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the claims.


Schmidt later filed a claim against his employer, the Seattle Police Department, accusing his supervisors of discriminating against him and refusing to promote him because of the assault. When the department refused to offer a settlement, Schmidt let the matter drop and didn’t file a lawsuit.


Since then, Schmidt has crusaded against what he considers gender bias in how authorities handle domestic-violence cases.


If elected sheriff, Schmidt said, he would not make sweeping changes in the domestic-violence program but would work toward removing bias in how cases are handled.


The Sheriff’s Office “has to work to start earning the trust of the community. The issue of trust goes back several years in several different areas of the department,” he said. “We have knocked on over a thousand doors in the county, and more than half bring up issues of integrity.”


He cited “deputies that allegedly threaten and/or assault suspects; deputies that are fired once, sometimes twice, but have to be hired back; a detective, or detectives, who can go years without producing results, then cannot be fired, and then are offered settlement packages that disgust the citizens who have to pay those bills.”


He was referring, in part, to former sheriff’s Detective Dan Ring, who agreed to retire earlier this year after he was investigated for criminal charges. Ring was accused of taking money from an elderly man, doing favors for escort services, purchasing illegal drugs and using police sources to stalk his ex-wife. Rahr says that because she feared he could win at trial and force the department to rehire him, she negotiated a settlement, which included paying his $250,000 attorney fees and dropping charges.


Jim Fuda


After 32 years with the Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Jim Fuda has weathered changes, notes his successes and admits to mistakes.


In 1979, five years into his police career, Fuda made what he considers his biggest error: covering up for his partner and lying to police and a prosecutor about the disappearance of $300 in drug-buy money.


The partner was charged with theft, acquitted and then — when new evidence surfaced — resigned from the agency. Fuda, who was not involved in the money’s disappearance, admitted to lying and was demoted to the salary and rank of a rookie.


Bit by bit, he rebuilt his career, becoming a top hostage negotiator. In 1986, he was praised for negotiating the release of a woman held hostage for seven hours in a Riverton trailer park.


One of the nation’s foremost experts on the subject, he has written hostage-negotiation training materials, taught classes, and is the regional representative for the International Association of Hostage Negotiators — a group devoted to standardizing training and equipment for hostage negotiators worldwide.


But Fuda was dealt another blow recently after one of Schmidt’s supporters discovered a diploma from a bogus online university in Fuda’s file. Fuda received the diploma, ostensibly being given “credit for life experience,” turned it into the county personnel office and was given a 2 percent education-incentive raise.


It prompted Sheriff Rahr to order an investigation into all 400 in the department who had submitted degrees under the program.


Fuda does not believe he did anything wrong because the decision to accept the diploma was made by the county’s human-resources department and he said he did not realize the university was a diploma mill.


The endorsement from the King County Police Guild, “means everything to me,” said Fuda, who says he would save King County money by consolidating some services — bomb squad, SWAT teams and marine units, for example — that other police forces in the area also provide.


Fuda, who is often praised for his people skills, says he would “re-engineer the department,” and focus more on local community needs. With the emphasis on terrorism prevention, neighborhood safety has been overlooked, he said.


“People want to feel safe in their homes,” he said. But the public-safety dollar isn’t going to get any bigger so there must be ways to provide law enforcement with the existing funding, he said.


As he enthusiastically details money-saving strategies, he is careful about criticizing Rahr.


Like Schmidt, he says the county needs more accountability. The Ring case, for example, eroded public confidence, he said.


“He should have at least been fired,” Fuda said.


Sue Rahr


A few years ago, when Sue Rahr was police chief in Shoreline — the city contracts with King County for its police services — she was given the nickname “Sheriff Sue.”


In January, the nickname became a reality when she was chosen to serve out the remainder of the term of Dave Reichert, who was elected to Congress. In the eight months she’s been sheriff, Rahr has waded through a quagmire of sticky personnel issues — from the Ring case to the case of two detectives who were arrested and jailed for allegedly roughing up a suspect and threatening to drown him in the Green River.


George Alvarez and James Keller, both veteran detectives, later sued Reichert, King County and Rahr, for her part in the attempt to fire them. A monthlong criminal trial against them ended in a 8-4 deadlock in favor of acquittal (a unanimous vote was needed to convict) on five of the six charges against the men. On the sixth charge, Keller was acquitted of fourth-degree assault. The detectives remain on the force.


No stranger to the hard knocks of police work, or to the challenges of being a woman in a traditionally male field, Rahr joined King County in 1979 and moved quickly up the ranks, becoming known for her humor, intelligence and willingness to take on assignments.


But in the early 1980s, when she joined the drug unit, she was criticized for her role in a drug raid, during which her supervisor claimed she let the suspect get control of her gun — something she disputes — and failed to turn on the radio so she could keep in contact with the other undercover officers. Capt. Forrest Innslee said it was an indication that Rahr did not do well under stress. She said she merely misunderstood the instructions. She was transferred to patrol to gain more experience.


She was twice disciplined for failing to report minor traffic accidents — occurring while she was driving a patrol car — in keeping with department protocol. And while Shoreline police chief, she was given two days’ suspension without pay for sending a Bill Clinton joke to another employee through county e-mail.


But her personnel file glows with accolades. Former Sheriff James Montgomery complimented her on her “doctrine of fairness” and said in 1991 that she was “unequaled in representing not only the Internal Investigations Unit but the department as a whole.”


Another supervisor cautioned her earlier about her tendency to be too “sympathetic” to the cop on the street and told her to always “look at the big picture.” Rahr now is accused by some in the department of being too distant from the street cop.


In fact, she likens herself to being the “school principal who has to hand out the discipline” and therefore isn’t always popular, compared to her opponent Fuda who is more like “the popular captain of the football team.”


The decision to let Ring retire, instead of firing him and pushing for prosecution, was difficult.


“On one hand I could have stood on the soap box and said, ‘Fire him!’ But it would have cost the county some $100,000 in legal fees … and I had an ironclad agreement that he’d never be a cop again. He would get his retirement under any circumstances,” she said.


The FBI is looking into the Ring case. “It’s frustrating that this has become an issue,” Rahr said.


She wants more information sharing between police departments and to accomplish that says she would revive a statewide computer system to alert law-enforcement agencies to probation violations and potential crime suspects. She says she is working with Reichert’s congressional office to address gaps in the county’s homeland-security plan and would like to provide extra training to keep detectives abreast of new technology.


She would like to streamline the prisoner-transport system. When someone is arrested in the rural parts of the county, an officer must be dispatched to pick up the prisoner and drive him to a county jail. It often leaves the officer’s normal area uncovered. Rahr would like to negotiate an agreement with cities to temporarily house prisoners in the nearest jail for later pickup.


Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com