A King County sheriff’s sergeant who was abruptly put on leave last year is at risk of being fired, a newly disclosed memo says, over conduct that included sending racist, anti-gay and sexually charged texts to colleagues.
A King County sheriff’s sergeant is facing possible termination over conduct that included texts sent to two deputies containing racist, anti-gay and sexually charged comments, according to a newly disclosed sheriff’s memorandum.
The texts surfaced as part of an internal investigation into a sex-discrimination claim filed last year by one of the deputies who received the texts, Amy Shoblom.
The sergeant, Dewey Burns, sent texts to Shoblom and the other deputy using slurs to refer to blacks, gay men, Mexicans and Chinese, some of whom he encountered at a poker room and a gym.
Referring to an assault suspect, Burns texted that he was “probably black” because “Usually violent ones are black dudes.” Burns also appeared to refer to another sergeant as a “Mexi” in his texting.
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The texts also revealed that Burns, who worked in the Metro Transit division until he was abruptly put on leave late last year when Shoblom filed her claim, “abandoned his responsibilities as a supervisor” in August, according to the memorandum obtained Tuesday by The Seattle Times.
Burns, while on duty, drove to Covington in his patrol car when Shoblom asked for a ride home from a friend’s apartment where she had been drinking, the memorandum said.
Burns stayed for one or two hours before following Shoblom to her home in Maple Valley, according to the memorandum.
“He would have no way to provide his deputies with supervisory oversight or emergency backup,” the memorandum said. “As a patrol supervisor, his actions that night compromised the security services for transit.”
The internal investigation also found Burns and Shoblom engaged in “longstanding sexualized text messaging,” which at times Shoblom initiated and encouraged.
The memorandum concurred with the finding of an outside attorney, hired by the sheriff’s office, that Shoblom wasn’t offended by the texts, which included sexually provocative photographs and images.
But it was Burns who violated “supervisory expectations,” the memorandum said.
Sheriff John Urquhart met Monday with Burns and his attorney, Robert Christie, to discuss the internal investigation, which recommended Burns be fired.
Urquhart said in an email that it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk in detail about the proceedings, but that Burns and Christie provided sworn affidavits from three Metro Transit employees regarding Burns’ “character, work ethic, and their experience with him interacting with minorities.”
Christie also presented a text message, sent by Shoblom, in which she used a racial epithet, Urquhart said. “We had not seen this particular text before. That will now be investigated,” Urquhart wrote.
Christie, in an interview Tuesday, said that a good friend of Burns who is of Mexican descent spoke on his behalf at the meeting, and that Burns has a stellar record on the job in his dealings with the public and Metro, including minorities.
“He’s not proud he used those words and took full responsibility that those were completely inappropriate,” Christie said of the 16-year veteran who, he added, received high marks in his 2014 job evaluation.
Urquhart, whose office reviewed hundreds of pages of texts, said after the meeting that he sustained misconduct allegations relating to Burns’ inappropriate relationship with a subordinate “as evidenced by the text messages,” as well as for the racial and anti-gay comments.
“I find all to be unacceptable and the sexually charged banter, racial and gay comments to be particularly beyond the pale,” he said in the email. “Absolutely unacceptable for a public servant.”
Urquhart said he still is weighing whether to sustain another allegation against Burns involving discrimination and harassment of Shoblom. The memo describes him using hand sanitizer to draw the image of a penis on her patrol car.
Urquhart said he would review Burns’ personnel, internal-investigations and commendation record as part of the due diligence he is required to conduct before making a disciplinary decision in about a week.
Shoblom’s attorney, Julie Kays, said Burns’ activities were so “chronic and pervasive” that it was “almost a condition of employment” for Shoblom, who was “damned” no matter what she did.
“Remember, he’s her boss,” Kays said.
Of the newly produced text in which Shoblom purportedly used an epithet, Kays said it was the first she had heard of the accusation and that she couldn’t comment further.
Kays said she plans to soon file a sex-discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Shoblom and two gay deputies, Sgt. Diana Neff and Deputy Julie Blessum, who filed preliminary claims against King County late last year alleging sex discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Each asked for up to $3 million in damages.
The allegations have been called into question in detailed reports prepared by two outside attorneys, hired by the sheriff’s office at a cost of about $89,600. While Burns’ conduct was deemed improper by the attorney who looked into Shoblom’s claim, the attorneys found no evidence of sex discrimination or hostile working conditions.
Some problems were attributed to poor communication skills by the commander who serves as police chief in Shoreline, where the sheriff’s office provides police services under a contract. Urquhart said he has counseled the commander, Shawn Ledford.
Noting the outside attorneys were paid by King County, Kays accused the sheriff’s office and King County of “trivializing complaints by three women who put on the badge every day and get out there to protect the rights of people in King County.”
Urquhart, in a statement, said using outside investigators is “a common practice for governments and business when their employees are accused of harassment or discrimination because it is a specialized legal area.”
Experts have a strong interest in their reputations to conduct fair investigations, Urquhart said, describing himself as “absolutely confident” in the quality of their work.
“Kays seems to assume that employers only want to hear that their employees have not engaged in harassment or discrimination, rather than discover and root out a problem if it exists,” the sheriff’s statement said. “It would be a disservice for an expert to mislead employers into erroneously thinking their employees are not engaged in harassment or discrimination when they are! That would do me and the taxpayers absolutely no good.”