The King County sheriff, who is seeking re-election, has adamantly denied the accusations by the two former deputies.
Leaders of three political-advocacy groups blasted King County Sheriff John Urquhart Wednesday for what they described as his egregious mistreatment of two people who have accused him of sexual assault, and they called on public officials who have supported his re-election bid to rescind their endorsements.
“The mishandling of sexual-assault charges against Sheriff Urquhart is appalling and absolutely unacceptable,” said Alexis Turla, diversity chairwoman of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington.
During a morning news conference, the groups contended that Urquhart and his chief of staff, Chris Barringer, have abused their authority by actively trying to discredit and silence people who have accused the sheriff of sexual assault through bullying tactics.
“It is so dangerous to see an elected official, a leader of King County’s law enforcement, respond to accusations of sexual assault by intimidating and attempting to silence their accusers,” said Tiffany Hankins, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.
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Urquhart has adamantly denied accusations by two former deputies that he assaulted them while they worked for the Sheriff’s Office and also denied improperly releasing their personal information. Barringer also claimed Wednesday that Monisha Harrell, one of the news conference’s primary participants, is working on behalf of Urquhart’s political opponent.
“It’s as simple as that,” Barringer said in an email.
Harrell, board president of the LGBTQ advocacy group, Equal Rights Washington (ERW), denied she’s working with the campaign of Urquhart opponent Mitizi Johanknecht.
“If Urquhart was running unopposed, we would’ve had the same press conference today,” she said.
Earlier Wednesday, Harrell explained during the news conference that her group’s decision to endorse Johanknecht came after Barringer offered to provide her with medical records to discredit a former deputy who last year alleged Urquhart raped her years earlier.
“People have also asked if providing those files is legal, and respectfully, I do not know,” Harrell said. “ … I don’t care if it’s legal, but I can tell you, it isn’t moral, and it is not ethical.”
Barringer has denied offering Harrell the woman’s medical records.
In April, Seattle police “administratively cleared” Urquhart of the woman’s claims of sexual assault, finding the statute of limitations on any crime had expired, and the alleged sex appeared consensual.
On Monday, the sheriff’s female accuser, who has asked The Seattle Times not to identify her, obtained a temporary sexual-assault protection order against Urquhart for allegedly publicly sharing her medical information. A hearing on the order is set for Tuesday.
Brian Barnes, another former deputy, recently has alleged the sheriff inappropriately touched him in 2014 and contends the county paid him a settlement to resign and keep quiet about that incident and other efforts to expose alleged wrongdoing within the department. Renton police are now criminally investigating Urquhart based on Barnes’ allegations.
During the news conference, Harrell read aloud from a letter she received from Urquhart’s lawyers earlier Wednesday that she took as “an attempt to silence this press conference.” Among other things, the letter stated “we will be watching you carefully” and added that Harrell should share the letter with her lawyer or to retain an attorney if she didn’t already have one.
Harrell characterized the letter as bullying.
“And I’m telling you right now, I will not be bullied, and I will stand with the victims who come forward to speak,” she said.
Harrell also produced screen shots of texts Barringer sent her in May to set up a phone call, disputing statements Barringer made to The Seattle Times on Tuesday that Harrell called “quite candidly … just lies.”
Barringer previously contended he hadn’t called Harrell about an endorsement, saying “the only communications seeking ERW’s endorsement were done by email, and only after ERW specifically contacted the campaign first.”
On Wednesday, Barringer said the texts and subsequent phone call to Harrell were a personal “communication with Monisha, herself,” and had nothing to do with an endorsement. He also reiterated his denial of offering the woman’s medical file, saying those records don’t exist within the Sheriff’s Office.
Hankins said a letter from NARAL would be sent later Wednesday to the county executive and council members “on behalf of our thousands of King County members” to request officials rescind endorsements of Urquhart.
By Wednesday afternoon, King County Councilman Rod Dembowski, Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González and state representatives Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw, and Noel Frame, D-Seattle, were among those to confirm they’d withdrawn endorsements of Urquhart.
In a statement Wednesday, González said “recent revelations involving his conduct during this campaign — particularly the reported offers to release opposition, accuser and detractor medical and personnel records — are very concerning, especially when it comes from our county’s top law enforcement officer.”
Wednesday’s news conference was held in a conference room in the same downtown office building that houses the office of Johanknecht’s political consultant, Cathy Allen. Allen said Wednesday she didn’t coordinate the news conference, but she acknowledged she is a member of all three groups and offered the conference room for the event.