The union representing 30 high-ranking King County sheriff’s commanders has notified Sheriff John Urquhart that its members are “deeply troubled” by misconduct allegations against him and want an outside investigator to review the claims.
The union representing 30 high-ranking King County Sheriff’s commanders has notified Sheriff John Urquhart that its members are “deeply troubled by the ongoing allegations of misconduct” against him and want the sheriff to bring in an outside investigator to review the claims.
“I cannot, in good conscience, remain silent while public trust and confidence in the King County Sheriff’s Office continues to erode with each new, unanswered allegation,” Capt. Carl Cole, president of the Puget Sound Police Managers Association, wrote to Urquhart in the letter dated Feb. 21.
“ … I strongly encourage you to take steps to see these allegations thoroughly and transparently investigated by an independent authority,” the letter added.
The union’s letter does not specify which allegations it’s referring to, but the sheriff and some of his top administrators have faced several high-profile misconduct claims in recent months. The allegations have included such disparate claims as discrimination in the workplace to a former deputy’s assertions that Urquhart raped her in 2002. Many of the allegations have emerged publicly in court filings to an ongoing bias lawsuit brought by one current and two former deputies.
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Urquhart strongly denies the allegations and has responded to the union with his own letter. It states he’s “confused” by the union’s request and cites recent investigations related to the woman’s rape allegations by the FBI, the Seattle Police Department and the King County Ombudsman’s Office.
“Given the nature of the agencies involved, I assume they will be thorough and the results transparent,” Urquhart’s letter states.
Reached Sunday, Cole, the president of the commander’s union, said he only received Urquhart’s response on Friday.
“It raises more questions than it answers,” Cole added. “It only addresses one element of the various allegations we were referring to.”
Cole declined further comment until the union can “do more fact-finding” about statements made in the sheriff’s letter.
The union’s letter, written on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office’s represented captains and majors — the department’s highest-ranking deputies other than chiefs — also criticizes Urquhart for what it describes as his double standard on deputy accountability.
The sheriff is quick to investigate deputies for “any and all” misconduct complaints, holding them to “this very high standard because it is critical for this agency to retain its legitimacy in the eyes of the community we swore to serve,” it states.
But when it comes to his own actions, Urquhart has sidestepped accountability, the letter said.
“How can a Sheriff who insists all members of his agency are held to these high standards forsake this responsibility for himself?” the letter asked Urquhart. “How can citizens remain confident in a Sheriff’s Office when its highest officer and most visible member abdicates any obligation to this standard of conduct?”
The ongoing lawsuit that exposed many of the allegations was brought by Sheriff’s Sgt. Diana Neff, who was transferred against her will from Shoreline to Maple Valley; and former deputies Amy Shoblom and Lou Cabellero, who were fired for dishonesty. They claim Urquhart and others discriminate against female deputies and retaliate against others.
Along with the lawsuit’s central claims, a variety of unrelated allegations from other deputies have emerged.
A since-fired detective in the department’s Backgrounds Unit has asserted Urquhart’s Chief of Staff Chris Barringer omitted that he used marijuana in a hiring questionnaire, then later failed a pre-employment polygraph exam when he reacted to a question about bribery. Nonetheless, Urquhart hired Barringer, a close friend who formerly lived with the sheriff, then ordered a second polygraph for him so Barringer could attend the state’s policy academy.
Several former internal- affairs commanders and detectives also have claimed Urquhart bullies investigators and meddles in deputy misconduct probes, raising fairness concerns. Two internal- affairs squad members also testified in depositions that Urquhart directed them not to document or investigate a former deputy’s 2016 complaint to the FBI that Urquhart raped her in 2002.
Urquhart and Barringer have roundly denied the claims. As of January, King County had spent nearly $1 million to a private attorney to defend them against suit, which is set for trial in May.
In his response to the union, Urquhart said his name was “already cleared by the FBI” regarding the rape allegation, and he stated Seattle police is now conducting an investigation “at my suggestion.”
Neither the FBI nor Seattle police have publicly verified such details. The FBI has said it looked solely at potential federal criminal violations when reviewing the woman’s claims but chose not pursue a case, and shared the allegations with the sheriff’s internal-affairs squad.
Seattle police opened an investigation nearly two months after the woman reported her claims to officers. A Seattle detective contacted the woman in January, a few days after a reporter asked the department about the case’s status.
Meantime, the Sheriff’s Office has not conducted its own internal-affairs probe of the rape claims, though her allegations were finally entered into the department’s database in January.
The union’s letter noted that Urquhart, by not holding himself to the same accountability standards as deputies, is potentially creating “consequences for every member of this office and has the potential to make the job more difficult and potentially more dangerous.”
Urquhart, 69, easily won election in 2012 and is seeking re-election this year. In his response to the union’s letter, he concluded: “When one holds elected office, spurious and uncorroborated allegations happen from time to time, and in this case they are being handled.”