Domestic violence offenders have the highest likelihood of being involved in homicide
SEATTLE, WA – King County Sheriff candidate John Urquhart today announced his plan to reinstitute the Domestic Violence Unit in the King County Sheriff’s Office in order to help address the region’s unprecedented rise in violent crime. The unit, comprised of detectives with specialized experience in domestic violence cases, was disbanded in recent years due to slashed budgets in criminal justice.
“As King County Sheriff, one of my priorities will be to focus on offenders suspected of domestic violence,” said Urquhart. “Domestic violence defendants are the most violent offenders in the criminal justice system. They have the highest rate of recidivism for future violent crime than any other offender, and they are the most likely to be involved in homicide.”
Ian Stawicki, the man who shot six people in Seattle on May 30th leaving five dead, legally owned multiple firearms. He was charged in 2008 with four counts of misdemeanor domestic violence assault for attacking his girlfriend, and he was charged again with misdemeanor domestic violence assault in 2010 after attacking his brother. In both cases the victims recanted and prosecutors dropped the charges. If Stawicki had been convicted of any one of the domestic violence charges, he would have been legally prohibited from owning firearms.
“Stawicki was legally allowed to possess firearms because prosecutors could not build a case against him without his victims’ cooperation,” said Sgt. Urquhart. “King County needs a specialized unit in the Sheriff’s Office that can properly investigate and build strong cases against domestic violence defendants where the case does not hinge solely on the testimony of the victim. This unit will save lives.”
A property staffed and trained unit will ensure that cases are complete and ready for prosecution, including medical records, photos, statements, and criminal history, making it easier for prosecutors to file cases, especially with reluctant victims.
Domestic violence victims recant for a variety of reasons including criminal witness tampering, witness intimidation, or even the fact that the victim may be financially dependent or share children with the defendant. The Domestic Violence Unit in the Sheriff’s Office would work with victims to help guide them through the criminal justice process. It would also provide victims with information about relocating to a safe place or how to seek no-contact orders against their abusers.
“Norm Maleng called domestic violence a ‘crime against the human spirit’,” said Urquhart. The impact on victims and their children is tremendous, and we need to make sure we have the resources available for successful prosecution. I intend to make that happen.
John Urquhart has been a commissioned police officer for over 36 years, the last 24 full-time with the King County Sheriff’s Office. He has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, master police officer, plain clothes vice & narcotics detective, patrol sergeant, and the Sheriff’s spokesman. John also serves as the President of the S.H.E.R.I.F.F. Fund, a non-profit dedicated to providing cash grants to members of the criminal justice community with a short-term need due to unforeseen life circumstances. John resides on the Eastside with Shelley, his wife of nearly 37 years.
Sgt. John Urquhart has been the spokesman for the King County Sheriff’s Department on almost every issue and retired months ago. But on Tuesday, he announced he’s throwing his hat into the ring for sheriff because the department is at a crossroads and things need to change.
“Fighting crime and good police work go hand in hand with accountability. They are not mutually exclusive,” he said at a news conference.
Urquhart, 64, retired from his role as spokesman last year after 24 years with the agency. But at Tuesday’s news conference, he sounded like an outsider in his calls for reforms and more accountability to citizens.
“[Citizens of King County] want a police agency that is tough on crime, but understands you can’t arrest your way out of every problem in society,” Urquhart said. “They do not want a police agency that has the attitude that we’re the cops and you’re not.”
Urquhart described an office that’s lax in accountability, where citizen complaints aren’t being fully investigated and use of force by officers isn’t being properly reviewed, even when citizens die.
Urquhart said the department hasn’t done enough soul-searching about the use of force. He pointed to four officer-involved shootings in 2011 – two of them fatal – that weren’t reviewed.
“There should have been a shooting review within 30 days; there was not,” he said. “That will not happen when I’m sheriff.”
Urquhart criticized the department for failing to learn from its mistakes in even the most egregious cases, such as one caught on video where Deputy Matt Paul is seen slamming an innocent man into a wall, leaving him damaged for life.
Even after King County paid out $10 million to settle lawsuits, then-Sheriff Sue Rahr defended the deputy’s tactics.
“There was no evidence of misconduct on the part of Deputy Paul,” she said.
But KING 5 obtained his file and found there was never even an investigation into Paul’s use of force.
“I think he made a mistake,” said Urquhart. “No question about that, no question about that.”
Urquhart said he was urged to run by people inside the department, but he knows his calls for increased accountability may not be popular with some – and he’s made a decision.
“I will not seek the endorsement of the Police Guild or Captain’s Guild because I think there’s a huge conflict of interest,” said Urquhart.
Urquhart said accountability has declined since early 2011. That’s when Rahr brought in former Kent Police Chief Steve Strachan to be her heir-apparent and handed over a lot of management to him.
Strachan became temporary sheriff a few weeks ago and wants the job permanently. When asked to Urquhart’s criticisms, he responded, “This will be the first hotly contested race for King County sheriff in many years and it’s off to a very interesting start.”
Urquhart’s announcement comes after King County Sheriff Sue Rahr stepped down to become the director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.
Saying the “war on drugs has been an abject failure,” Urquhart supports Initiative 502, which seeks to legalize marijuana in Washington state. “And I was a narcotics detective,” he pointed out.
Strachan said he welcomes more clarity in the state’s medical-marijuana laws, which I-502 might bring. But he stopped short of endorsing legalization. “At the end of the day it’s up to the will of the people,” he said.