The election-season attack was leveled Thursday afternoon when Republican Jeff Sax released public records related to a 1996 investigation by the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.
A sleepy legislative race turned ugly this week when the Republican challenger to Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, publicized records of a 20-year-old investigation into an accusation that Lovick sexually abused his daughter. The challenger, Jeff Sax, posted the records online even though no charges were filed in the case and Lovick’s daughter strongly denies her father abused her.
The election-season attack was leveled Thursday afternoon, when Sax released public records related to a 1996 investigation by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
A former Snohomish County council member, Sax’s campaign posted the documents on a website called The Lovick Files, saying in a news release “the public has the right to know” about the allegations against a powerful politician.
“This will undoubtedly bring up painful memories for the survivors of Lovick’s alleged abuse. It hurts me deeply that holding him accountable will remind them,” Sax wrote in a news release Thursday, adding that reading the files made him “sick to my stomach.”
He said he would not comment further.
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In an interview Friday, Lovick said he was angered by Sax’s tactics. “There is nothing else I can say other than none of this happened,” he said.
Sax’s campaign consultant, Chad Minnick, previously had provided the documents to multiple media outlets over the past two months, including The Seattle Times, which reviewed them, independently obtained other records and interviewed his daughter, among others.
In part because of his daughter’s denials, The Seattle Times and other media declined to publish a story on the allegations previous to Sax’s public attacks this week.
In interviews and in a written statement, Sabrina Lovick Combs repeated that her father did not abuse her and attributed the allegations to her estranged biological mother and a counselor she briefly saw at her mother’s insistence.
“I am not a victim. I want to make that clear,” Combs said, adding that Republicans “are lying about my father.”
On her Facebook page, Combs called the abuse accusations “100 percent false” and asked Sax and the Republican Party to take down the website. “As a working mom, I did not ask for this kind of attention and would appreciate people allowing me to go back to my job serving my community,” she wrote.
As of Friday evening, the site remained online.
Efforts to reach Combs’ mother, who was divorced from Lovick in 1989, were unsuccessful.
Lovick is a law enforcement and political veteran who worked for three decades for the Washington State Patrol, was elected sheriff of Snohomish County in 2007 and served as Snohomish County executive from 2013 to 2015. He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1998, serving nine years. He was appointed to the Legislature again in 2016 to fill a vacancy and was re-elected that fall.
Sax’s move to publicize the abuse allegations ignited controversy in the previously little-noticed race in which Sax has been facing long-shot odds. He received 43 percent of the vote in the August primary, compared with 57 percent for Lovick.
The records of the 1996 investigation show Lovick, who was then a member of the Mill Creek City Council and a Washington State Patrol trooper, was investigated after “several” referrals from Child Protective Services (CPS) “regarding both sexual and physical abuse.”
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s office handled the investigation at the request of the Mill Creek Police Department, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Sgt. Rhonda Pince, the investigator assigned to the case, wrote in a report that the physical abuse allegations were beyond the statue of limitations and could not be prosecuted. She contacted Combs, who was by then an adult, to see whether she wanted to pursue sexual-abuse charges.
“[Combs] told me she doesn’t want to pursue this, as far as she is concerned it’s in the past and she doesn’t want to bring it up again,” Pince wrote.
Pince also spoke with a counselor in California, who reported that Lovick’s daughter had said during a counseling session that she’d been sexually abused as a minor years earlier when she lived with her father and mother in Mill Creek. The counselor further said that abuse had been reported three years earlier.
The report, which contained few details of the alleged abuse, said Lovick withdrew a foster-home application after being notified of the allegations and that he had been provided a name and telephone number to contact Pince, but did not call her.
Pince’s report said a CPS investigator told her that agency’s investigation into the allegations had been closed as “inconclusive.” Due to alleged victim not wanting to pursue a case, the Sheriff’s Office investigation also was closed without charges.
Combs emphasized this week she didn’t seek charges because her father did not abuse her. She noted she has remained close to him and worked on his political campaigns.
In a five-plus page written statement, Combs said: “In this case, there was no abuse. There is no scandal. Our community has bigger issues for … local reporters to focus on besides harassing public servants …”
Lovick’s son Jeffrey Lovick, who works as a Los Angeles police officer, also came to his father’s defense, calling the allegations untrue and the Republican effort “desperate, amateurish and gutless” in a letter to news media.
Minnick, the Republican consultant, was unapologetic, saying the allegations contained in the records are credible and serious despite the denials by Lovick and his family.
He said the records had been released with the names of the alleged victim redacted to protect her privacy and argued Lovick, by having his children defend him, is to blame for any trauma to his family.
In an email, Minnick wrote that he was “sick about her getting dragged into this … I told you Lovick would put her in front of him to defend him. Like a terrorist hiding in a hospital. He is shameless.”
But in her written statement, Combs said the Republican Party should be focusing on larger issues “instead of trying to distract the community with lies about opponents. But, I guess if you can’t attack my father because he is an amazing servant of this community then lying about him and his character is the next option.”