Body-camera result: deputy who accused bus driver of profanity fired for dishonesty

Body-camera result: deputy who accused bus driver of profanity fired for dishonesty

In a termination letter sent last week to Deputy Amy Shoblom, King County Sheriff John Urquhart cited video evidence captured on personal body camera worn by the Metro Transit driver, which showed no profanity was used during a Nov. 14 argument.

King County Sheriff John Urquhart has fired a deputy after an internal investigation determined she falsely accused a bus driver of using a profanity during an argument with her sergeant.

In a termination letter sent last week to Deputy Amy Shoblom, Urquhart cited video evidence captured on a personal body camera worn by the King County Metro Transit driver, which showed no profanity was used during the Nov. 14 argument.

Urquhart noted that, in many instances, the word of an officer is not subject to independent confirmation.

“Rather, it stands on its own, backed only by the badge and the hard-earned goodwill of the department the officer represents,” he wrote. “Both the public, in general, and this office, in particular, grant you this broad authority essentially on a single condition, which is that you exercise it honestly, that you can be trusted. In the final analysis, it is the breach of this fundamental bargain that warrants, if not compels, discharge.”

Shoblom, 34, joined the sheriff’s office in 2006. Her termination was effective Aug. 7.

Urquhart’s decision whether to fire the sergeant, Lou Caballero, who initially accused the driver of using the profanity, has been delayed while the sheriff’s office looks into a new, similar allegation recently brought by another Metro driver against Caballero.

Urquhart received recommendations to terminate Caballero and Shoblom for dishonesty detailed in the internal investigation, which also found Caballero retaliated against the driver, Kelvin Kirkpatrick.

Shoblom’s attorney, Julie Kays, criticized the firing Monday, attributing Shoblom’s termination to the “ultimate act of retaliation” for alleging separate incidents of sexual harassment against another sergeant.

“It sends a chilling message to other women in the department who are being discriminated against and harassed: if you dare speak out, you will suffer the consequences,” she wrote in a statement.

Kays, who is also representing Caballero, said Caballero filed a claim for up to $3 million in damages against the county last week, citing retaliation for also alleging the sexual harassment of Shoblom. The claim is the first step in a potential lawsuit.

The Nov. 14 argument culminated months of tension between Caballero and Kirkpatrick, who had complained that Caballero’s deputies weren’t doing their job on the overnight shift, according to sheriff’s records.

Shortly after the argument, Caballero filed a complaint against Kirkpatrick, accusing him of using a variation of the f-word while the two spoke behind Kirkpatrick’s bus in downtown Seattle.

Caballero alleged Kirkpatrick yelled and said: “You got three (expletive) deputies out here that don’t do nothing.”

At Caballero’s request, Shoblom wrote a report, stating Kirkpatrick yelled and used the profanity, with the same improper grammar.

Caballero and Shoblom were unaware that Kirkpatrick was wearing glasses with a built-in video camera, which showed Kirkpatrick saying, “I’m expressing how frustrated I am at the fact that I got three deputies that don’t do anything when I need help!”

Urquhart’s termination letter found Kirkpatrick reasonably expressed his frustration, speaking “loudly, clearly, grammatically correctly, and professionally.”

Metro Transit cleared Kirkpatrick, 45, of the deputies’ allegations after an internal investigation.

Urquhart noted that, without the video recording, Kirkpatrick could have been unfairly disciplined.

Caballero and Shoblom repeated their allegations when questioned during the internal investigation. After later learning of the video, they strongly denied they had lied in written statements submitted to Urquhart in June.

A third deputy interviewed during the internal investigation said he didn’t hear any profanity.

The case also took on racial overtones when a sheriff’s commander, who oversees Metro Transit police, noted in a memo that the deputies’ accusation against Kirkpatrick, who is African-American, cast the sheriff’s office in a damaging light at a time of widespread distrust of police in African-American communities nationwide.

The new allegation against Caballero, 50, a sheriff’s deputy since 1999, arose when another Metro driver contacted the sheriff’s office in the wake of news stories last month about the Nov. 14 incident.

The driver, Gregory Allen, 63, who is also African-American, told The Seattle Times that about one or two months before that incident, Caballero had become upset after a passenger he removed from Allen’s bus in downtown Seattle managed to get back on without Allen noticing.

While exchanging words, Allen said, Caballero told him not to “cuss” at him.

Allen said he never swore at Caballero and reported Caballero’s remark to his supervisor. In that instance, Allen said, Caballero didn’t file a complaint against him.

Shoblom was the subject of news stories earlier this year, when it was revealed she had exchanged sexually charged text messages with the sergeant she accused of sexual harassment, Dewey Burns, who was fired in April for sending racist and anti-gay texts, primarily to Shoblom.

Although Shoblom wasn’t found to have engaged in misconduct over the sexually and racially related texts, she received 20 days off without pay for sending insensitive comments about the use of lethal force.

In April, Shoblom and two other female deputies filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office, alleging sexual harassment, bias and retaliation.

Kays, the attorney for Shoblom and Caballero, said in her statement that Kirkpatrick was a character witness for Burns before he was fired.

“We look forward to deposing the Sheriff and all others who were involved in this decision,” she said of Shoblom’s termination while asserting Kirkpatrick’s veracity, bias and motive have been “called into question.”

Kirkpatrick, the bus driver, also has been in the news previously. In 1999, he was shot while attending a movie.

Court papers said a belligerent moviegoer pulled his snub-nose revolver after Kirkpatrick asked him to shut up during a showing of the Robert DeNiro gangster comedy “Analyze This.” A Renton man was charged with first-degree assault.

The incident, Kirkpatrick said recently, shaped his views on personal safety.

Kirkpatrick, a 20-year driver, has said he began wearing a camera on the job about a year ago — before his dispute with the deputies — for safety and in the event Metro’s onboard camera system failed.

Urquhart earlier said Kirkpatrick’s recording fell within legal bounds because people are allowed to shoot video and audio of police officers on the job.

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