When a former deputy reported to Seattle police she’d been raped 14 years ago by now-Sheriff John Urquhart, officers initially discounted her claims by focusing on her mental-health issues. SPD is now investigating the case.
She called to report a rape, but instead police discounted her as “out of touch with reality.”
Shortly after the woman’s 911 call that morning this past November, two Seattle police officers were dispatched to her apartment to take a sexual-assault report. She told them she’d been raped in 2002 after a night drinking with her supervisor and claimed her assailant had kept in contact to manipulate and intimidate her.
But rather than take down the names of potential witnesses she gave, or accept other verifiable details and records she offered, the officers focused on her self-disclosure of a previous mental-health diagnosis, and on a series of seemingly “strange happenings” she described, including her belief she was being surveilled, records show.
Later, when Officers Christopher Couet and Jamison Maehler wrote a formal incident report, the matter wasn’t classified as a sexual assault — the department’s presumptive designation for such serious allegations. Instead, it was deemed a “disturbance-other.”
The vague designation drew no immediate follow-up, and the case was relegated to “inactive” status, records and interviews show. For the next two months, the woman heard nothing from Seattle police about her accusations that King County Sheriff John Urquhart had assaulted her.
Only after The Seattle Times asked the Seattle department about the case last month did a sexual-assault detective follow-up with the woman, interviews and records show.
After an in-depth interview with her in January, the detective and a deputy prosecutor indicated the statute of limitations on the alleged assault had lapsed, but a police spokesman has since said the case is still being investigated.
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“We have interviewed the victim and are following up with additional witnesses,” spokesman Sean Whitcomb said. “This remains an active and ongoing investigation. We have no further comment at this time.”
Whitcomb declined to answer questions about the report’s thoroughness or why the matter was classified as a “disturbance.”
“People with mental problems can and do get assaulted,” said Pierce Murphy, the civilian watchdog who directs the department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA). “In fact, they can be targeted because of those vulnerabilities. And so it’s really important — particularly in a case involving someone with apparent mental problems — that a (sexual assault) report be investigated properly.”
Murphy, who when initially contacted by The Times this past month had not seen the officers’ report, said in general, misclassifying a report or omitting key details can hinder any subsequent investigation.
“When a report is classified as ‘disturbance other,’ that’s pretty much a nothing,” Murphy added.
Last week, the OPA decided to commence a full investigation into whether the department handled the sexual-assault report appropriately, Murphy said.
In their report, the officers noted the woman claimed that, after a night of drinking with “friends” in November 2002, Urquhart took her home to her apartment and raped her while she was drunk.
A police audio recording of the officers’ Nov. 10 conversation with the woman — obtained by The Times through a public-records request — shows that the woman told the officers she’d been a sheriff’s deputy at the time, and that Urquhart was her sergeant. Those details were not included in the officers’ report.
The report also omitted information about other sheriff’s employees whom the woman identified as potential witnesses, including a deputy who allegedly drove her and Urquhart back to her apartment on the night in question.
The report only indicates the woman, with no ties documented to the sheriff, was accusing him of a 14-year-old rape, then lists several seemingly bizarre events the woman claimed occurred in the years since. Among them, that Urquhart had “followed her around the country,” hacked into her computer and had someone leave the gas stove running in her apartment, “possibly to create an explosion.”
As part of the report, the officers included a “crisis template” indicating the woman was delusional.
Urquhart has vigorously denied the woman’s allegations. Early last month, Chris Barringer, Urquhart’s chief of staff, distributed a copy of the Seattle police report to Metropolitan King County Council members and others, according to council members.
“Chris just wanted to make sure that the information was known,” council member Reagan Dunn said. “I believe that he was presenting this (report) as somehow exculpatory.”
The Sheriff’s Office, in a report given to The Seattle Times responding to previous news stories, called many of the claims noted in the police report “wild, over-the-top accusations that certainly call into question the credibility of the woman.”
The woman took her allegations to Seattle police after learning other agencies didn’t plan to investigate them.
In June, she’d gone to the FBI, where an agent soon informed an internal-affairs sergeant at the sheriff’s office about her allegations. The sergeant and his commander, in turn, informed Urquhart, who instructed them not to document the matter into the internal-affairs database, both investigators later testified in depositions for an unrelated bias lawsuit. Four deputies with internal-affairs experience have given sworn statements that the matter should have been documented or investigated under Sheriff’s Office protocols.
Urquhart has since stated in court records he only suggested his squad not document the woman’s claims because the FBI already had reviewed them and found the woman not credible, and because she hadn’t directly filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office.
Urquhart also has cited the woman’s mental-health issues to rebut her claims and has compiled various records showing she previously carried on a friendly, supportive relationship with him for years after the alleged rape occurred.
Lawyers for the county also have filed a deposition with Robert L. Davis, a retired San Jose, Calif., police chief-turned-paid consultant, in support of Urquhart’s decision not to investigate the matter.
Still, the Sheriff’s Office last month logged the woman’s allegations into the department’s complaint database, directly based on the Seattle police disturbance report, Barringer wrote in an email Monday.
The entry was created “because we had concrete, written accusations documented by a Seattle Police Officer rather than third-hand word-of-mouth hearsay,” Barringer wrote. The sheriff’s office will decide whether an investigation is warranted pending outcome of the SPD investigation, he added.
The Times typically does not name victims of alleged sexual assault without their permission. The woman has asked not to be identified.
After learning in late October that neither the FBI nor the sheriff’s internal-affairs squad planned to pursue her allegations, the woman submitted a complaint to the King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO). When its director informed her OLEO wasn’t yet set up to investigate citizens’ complaints, the woman turned to Seattle police.
On Nov. 10, she went to the department’s East Precinct to make a report, but she became uncomfortable when an “officer there used the term victim in air quotes,” she later told a police dispatcher. The woman then went home and called 911, requesting a female officer be sent to take the report.
A short time later, Couet and Maehler — two male officers — arrived at her apartment building, explaining no female officers were available, according to the recorded conversation.
For about 40 minutes, she unwound a sometimes hard-to-follow account that even she, at times, described to the officers as “complicated” and “unbelievable.” Some of what she told the officers is verifiable information that Urquhart has acknowledged in public and sworn statements.
Along with details about the alleged assault, the woman also described various unusual events in the years since that she believed Urquhart somehow orchestrated — from her emails disappearing to suspicious people and vehicles surveilling her.
The woman “continued to speak at lengths about strange happenings that occurred over the last few years,” the officers’ later reported.
Regarding phone text messages the woman claimed depicted her conversation with Urquhart to arrange a meeting at a Capitol Hill bar in September 2015, their report noted: “It appeared to not be Urquhart who she was texting at the time. When the phone number provided by (the woman) was ran, it came back to a `Brent Davis.’”
But a Google search and state campaign records show Urquhart has used the same phone number. The sheriff has also said in a written statement he last met with the woman in late 2015 “for a drink after work to catch up.”
Before they left her, one of the Seattle officers told the woman their report would be forwarded to an investigator for follow-up. “So, if you were a cop, you know how it works,” he told her, according to the recording.
Two months later
When Sgt. Susanna Monroe of the sexual-assault unit contacted the woman two months later, the woman said she asked whether any of the deputies she’d identified as potential witnesses had been interviewed. The woman said Monroe responded no witnesses had been documented in the officers’ report.
The woman later agreed to meet with Monroe and King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Corinn Bohn for an in-depth interview on Jan. 12. At least one witness she identified during the meeting also has since been interviewed.
Skepticism of those reporting sexual assaults isn’t unusual, some victims advocates say. Reports made by people with mental-health issues “are particularly challenging, because they’re seen by the system to be unreliable or not credible,” said Grace Call, a longtime victims’ advocate and senior policy analyst with the Coalition on State Governments.
“The best thing that any department can do is to take the report at face value, and then look to see whether there’s evidence to support it,” she said.