• Publicola Picks John Urquhart for Sheriff

    Publicola Picks, Oct. 29. 2012

    In the King County Sheriff’s race, PubliCola picks John Urquhart. John Urquhart, the longtime spokesman for former King County sheriffs Sue Rahr and Dave Reichert, is the clear choice against appointed Sheriff Steve Strachan, an anti-choiceanti-tax, pro-gun conservative.

    Strachan has been the target of two damning audits criticizing his office for its inconsistent internal investigations policies, and for losing or destroying important documents. (Strachan also held a fundraiser at a gun range, titled “Shootin’ With the Sheriff,” at a time when the Northwest and the nation were going through one of the worst years of gun violence in recent history.)

    Urquhart has vowed to reform sheriff’s department policies in keeping with national best practices; has said he will return the department’s internal investigations unit to full strength; and has the endorsement of numerous King County police reform advocates, including Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, City Council public safety committee chair Bruce Harrell, and former US attorney (and pot-legalization advocate) John McKay.

  • Our Choice for Representatives

    John Urquhart for Sheriff

    SnoValley Star Editorial Board, October 24, 2012

    The sheriff’s office is mired in problems with personnel, policies and procedures — all brought to light in recent audits. The next sheriff has a paramount duty to correct the issues and restore public confidence in the agency.

    Neither candidate is ideal, but both interim Sheriff Steve Strachan and John Urquhart offer a deep respect for the agency and its mission to protect and serve.

    We support Urquhart, whose strength is in his skill to communicate the agency’s mission and priorities to elected leaders in King County and Olympia, deputies in the field and, most importantly, to the public.

  • John Urquhart for Sheriff

    Issaquah Press Editorial

    By Staff October 16, 2012

    John Urquhart for sheriff

    King County voters last experienced a contested race for sheriff in 2005.

    The race on the ballot next month, between appointed Sheriff Steve Strachan and John Urquhart, a former King County Sheriff’s Office sergeant, offers voters a choice between a pair of capable candidates.

    Former Sheriff Sue Rahr stepped down in March, and the King County Council appointed Strachan for the interim. The election is to fill the remainder of Rahr’s term through December 2013.

    The sheriff’s office is mired in problems with personnel, policies and procedures — all brought to light in recent audits. The next sheriff has a paramount duty to correct the issues and restore public confidence in the agency.

    Both candidates served as insiders in the department — Strachan as Rahr’s chief deputy, Urquhart as spokesman and a beat cop — and yet both claim to bear the mantel of change. Neither candidate is ideal, but both offer a deep respect for the agency and its mission to protect and serve the public.

    Urquhart lacks managerial experience at a large public agency, so his decision, if elected, to bring Anne Kirkpatrick — a reform-minded former police chief of Spokane, Federal Way and Ellensburg — on board in the sheriff’s office No. 2 slot is heartening.

    Urquhart also possesses the skills to communicate the agency’s mission and priorities to elected leaders in Seattle and Olympia, deputies in the field and, most importantly, to the public.

    Vote Urquhart for sheriff.


  • Sheriff’s Office Slow to Act on Harassment Complaints

    Linda Byron/King 5 News

    October 11, 2012

    For nearly a decade, inside the Kent Regional Justice Center, three female King County Sheriff’s detectives who investigate horrendous sex crimes say they were subjected to sexual abuses by their supervisors in the special assault unit.

    “Heaping verbal abuse, and making degrading and derogatory comments,” said attorney Julie Kays.

    Kays says the ringleader was Sgt. Tony Provenzo.

    “He would talk about the size of his genitals, he would talk about his sexual escapades, he would comment on the size of women’s breasts in the workplace,” said Kays.

    Now the KING 5 Investigators have obtained the confidential workplace investigation conducted by an outside attorney hired specifically to look into allegations of sexual harassment in the special assault unit. That attorney found Provenzo had a history of problems with women he supervised.

    The attorney focused on one detective’s allegations of mistreatment and concluded that Provenzo was inappropriate and “treated the complainant differently”…”based on her gender”

    Other detectives described the atmosphere in the special assault unit as “dysfunctional” and “intolerable.”

    The Sheriff’s Office got the workplace investigation report in January, yet Sgt. Provenzo wasn’t transferred until nine months later, and only then because the three female detectives filed multimillion-dollar legal claims against the sheriff’s office.

    “He should have been moved and not placed in a position where he has an opportunity to degrade and humiliate wonderful female employees.  He should have been moved a long time ago,” said Kays.

    In the meantime, the three women are still reporting for work in the Special Assault Unit – still answering to one of the three sergeants they have accused of sexual harassment.

    Sheriff Steve Strachan sent us a statement, saying “Issues were brought to our attention.  We hired an independent investigator, and then a facilitator to conduct a collaborative process to work through some issues in the unit. During that process the claim was filed.   We are still in the process of evaluating the claim.   We transferred the sergeant following the claim.   We are committed to finding the best solution that is fair to everyone involved.  As I have made clear, it is my expectation that we will have a respectful workplace. This is a pending claim and our policy is that we do not try the case in the media. “

    We attempted to contact Sgt. Provenzo but the Sheriff’s Office has advised him not to talk.

  • Sheriff violated county ethics code

    The Seattle Times

    Jennifer Sullivan, Oct. 4, 2012

    King County Sheriff Steve Strachan violated the county’s ethic’s code twice by appearing in uniform during a Republican picnic and in campaign literature, the King County Ombudsman’s Office said Wednesday.

    The Ombudsman’s Office found that Strachan violated the code when his campaign posted a photo of him in uniform on his campaign website and for appearing in uniform at a King County Republican Party picnic in July.

    Strachan, on Wednesday, said “obviously, ethics are very important to me; we want to make sure we are doing this right.”

    Strachan said he was invited to the Republican picnic as the sheriff and that he “didn’t do any campaigning” at the event.

    While the ombudsman’s report found both violations “minor and of minimal or no cost to the county,” the findings were forwarded to the King County Prosecutor’s Office for review, said Jon Stier, senior deputy ombudsman for King County.

    Stier said that it is up to the prosecutor’s office to decide whether “civil and or misdemeanor criminal penalties” are necessary. According to the ombudsman’s report, Strachan can appeal the decision.

    The King County Ombudsman’s Office manages citizen complaints concerning King County government agencies.

    Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff at the prosecutor’s office, said, “We have just received the report; we’ll review it.”

    “In situations, like this, we typically refer the matter to the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) for investigation and review, as they are the most appropriate agency to handle campaign issues. It’s our understanding the PDC already has the same complaint before them. We will likely defer to them,” Goodhew said.

    Both the complaint to the Ombudsman’s Office and the PDC were made by a Seattle attorney named Alex Wilford.

    Wilford alleges that Strachan “appears to be using taxpayer resources in the course of his political campaign,” according to the PDC complaint. Both complaints allege that Strachan was campaigning in uniform and used his county email to promote his campaign.

    Wilford, in an interview, said he’s interested in political issues and he once interned for Metropolitan King County Councilman Reagan Dunn.

    The PDC complaint remains under investigation.

    Strachan, who was appointed sheriff after Sue Rahr retired earlier this year, is running against John Urquhart in a contentious race. Urquhart is a retired sheriff’s sergeant and longtime media spokesman. Strachan is the former chief of police in Kent and former Minnesota legislator.

    Urquhart, on Wednesday, said in an email that “as police officers, we are held to a high standard and it’s always disappointing when that standard is not met.

    “This is yet another embarrassment for the sheriff’s office from a man who has run for office twice before, and knows better,” Urquhart said.

    Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

  • Sheriff candidate Urquhart says former Spokane chief would be his second in charge

    The Seattle Times

    Jennifer Sullivan, October 2, 2012

    King County sheriff’s candidate John Urquhart announced Tuesday morning that if he wins the race he will appoint former Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick as his chief deputy.

    Urquhart, 64, who retired as a sergeant a year ago after 23 years at the Sheriff’s Office, is running against current Sheriff Steve Strachan.

    Urquhart, formerly the sheriff’s office media spokesman, said in a news release that he picked Kirkpatrick for his second in charge, because of her decades of law enforcement experience – as chief of Ellensburg, Federal Way and Spokane – and because she’s focused on police reform issues. He said that Kirkpatrick has experience working with the Department of Justice when the agency investigated Spokane police.

    During an interview with The Times on Monday, Urquhart said that he had heard that the Department of Justice plans to investigate the King County Sheriff’s Office for the way it investigates use-of-force complaints against deputies.

    “Anne Kirkpatrick has the experience and credentials every city in the country looks for in its police chief,” Urquhart wrote in a news release.

    Kirkpatrick retired from the Spokane department earlier this year and moved back to Seattle, where she has long maintained a home. In 2010, she was a semi-finalist in the selection for Seattle’s new chief of police.

  • Judge: King County Withheld Emails on Deputy’s Use of Force

    By Christine Clarridge/Seattle Times Staff Reporter

    September 14, 2012

    TACOMA — A judge on Friday sharply rebuked King County for deliberately withholding information on a sheriff’s deputy’s troubling behavior from the attorneys of a man left permanently brain-damaged when tackled by the deputy in 2009.

    Calling the county’s failure to produce three key documents “reprehensible,” Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend issued a $300,000 sanction against the county and left the door open for the family of Christopher Sean Harris to possibly receive millions more in compensatory damages.

    “This reckless indifference in its failure to produce these three documents — documents that were indisputably relevant — is the functional equivalent of intentional misconduct,” Arend said of the failure to turn over the information after Harris’ family sued. The county settled with the family for $10 million in January 2011 in the midst of a civil trial in King County Superior Court.

    Harris, 32, of Olympia, was left brain-damaged, paralyzed and unable to speak after he was tackled and pushed into a wall by Deputy Matthew Paul in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood in May 2009. Harris had been wrongly identified as a suspect in an earlier bar fight.

    In addition to the punitive damages, Arend said King County would be liable for the Harris family’s attorneys’ fees and possibly compensatory damages that could have been incurred had the family filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit. The family’s attorneys have said they would’ve filed a civil-rights lawsuit if they had information on other use-of-force complaints against Paul.

    Arend said she will make a determination on further damages after another hearing so Harris’ attorneys can try to show they would have prevailed in a civil-rights case had they possessed the three documents in question.

    After Arend issued her ruling, Harris’ lead attorney, Sim Osborn, said, “We hit a home run today.”

    The case was heard in Pierce County to avoid a conflict of interest.

    The tackle

    On May 10, 2009, Harris was walking through Belltown when he was wrongly identified by a witness as a suspect in a bloody bar fight that re-erupted inside a nearby convenience store.

    The witness pointed Harris out to Paul and another deputy, who were working as King County Metro Transit officers.

    Harris led the deputies on a roughly 2 ½-block foot chase as the deputies yelled for him to stop. The two sides disputed exactly when the deputies identified themselves as officers.

    According to testimony during the civil trial, Paul and the other deputy were wearing black tactical uniforms, not traditional deputy uniforms. Harris’ attorneys said he likely didn’t realize the deputies were law-enforcement officers.

    As Harris slowed to a stop, Paul delivered a hit to Harris’ chest, slamming him into the concrete wall outside the Cinerama theater at Fourth Avenue and Lenora Street. A surveillance camera captured the incident. Harris is seen raising his hands before he is hit by Paul.

    An internal investigation by the Sheriff’s Office determined Paul delivered a “hard shove” to Harris that fell within legal bounds. The King County Prosecutor’s Office, calling it “a very tragic incident,” declined to file criminal charges against the deputy.

    But after reaching the settlement, Harris’ attorneys contended the Sheriff’s Office and county withheld emails and other documents that outlined internal concerns about unnecessary or excessive force used by Paul in other incidents. They filed a motion at the end of last year asking Arend to sanction the county and order it pay an additional $3.3 million.

    What emails showed

    Harris’ attorneys allege there were three relevant documents the Sheriff’s Office intentionally withheld.

    First was a chain of emails to Paul’s supervisor about his behavior at the Basic Law Enforcement Academy, where Paul had been demonstrating defensive tactics to new officers. The email said Paul “exhibited behaviors that were a concern” and had used force that was “far above the norm” when working with a smaller female trainee.

    The academy’s commander later told Paul’s supervisor that he would no longer be welcome at the academy.

    The county had said its search for information on Paul did not uncover the emails. But Arend, in Friday’s ruling, said “any competent electronic discovery effort would have located this email.”

    Arend also said the county erred when it failed to produce documents about another use-of-force incident that should have been in Paul’s personnel file, but was not included until after the county settled the Harris lawsuit.

    Additionally, she said the county failed to turn over information about a citizen complaint filed against Paul in May 2010. In that incident, Seattle resident Jeffrey Gold was tackled by Paul and suffered a broken nose after Gold stopped to videotape Paul and other deputies deal with an intoxicated person. Gold was arrested for jaywalking and obstructing an officer, but was never charged. He has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against Paul and the county.

    Deputy still on the job

    Paul remains on the force, although he was placed on a performance-improvement plan after former Sheriff Sue Rahr learned he was alleged to have had “verbal conflicts, physical confrontations, use of force and marginal arrests.”

    King County Sheriff Steve Strachan, who attended Friday’s hearing, said he respects the court’s ruling, but does not agree the failure to disclose the information about Paul was intentional.

    He declined to speak specifically about Paul, but said while there is room for improvement in training, accountability and supervision, the department is nevertheless “very good.”

    King County prosecutors, who defended the case, said they will wait until the matter is fully resolved before deciding whether to appeal the judge’s ruling.

    Judge gave “tongue lashing”

    Harris’ wife, Sarah Harris, and his uncle were in the courtroom for the ruling. Sarah Harris declined to speak, but Steve Harris said it was gratifying to hear the judge “give [the county] a tongue lashing.”

    He said the recent motion was not about getting more money, but more about getting Paul off the street and teaching the Sheriff’s Office a lesson.

    “He should have already been dismissed,” Steve Harris said. “It’s not over. We’re not going to give up.”

    Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com.

    Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

  • Report Slams How Shootings by King County Deputies are Investigated

    By Steve Miletich

    The Seattle Times, Published September 10, 2012

    The King County Sheriff’s Office needs a new review board, possibly with a citizen member, to improve serious flaws in the way it examines shootings by its deputies, according to a highly critical report to be presented Tuesday to the Metropolitan King County Council.

    Decisions by the sheriff’s Shooting Review Board have displayed an “absence of serious deliberation and explicit reasoning,” says the 70-page report prepared by Merrick Bobb, the head of a Los Angeles-based consulting firm who is considered one of the nation’s leading experts on police accountability.

    The report, a copy of which The Seattle Times obtained, recommends the shooting board be replaced by a “Use of Force Review Board” that would examine all shootings by deputies as well as serious incidents of other kinds of force.

    Such a board might consist of three voting members, including the sheriff’s head of training, a rotating top commander and a citizen representative, the report says.

    The report is to be considered Tuesday by the County Council’s Government Accountability, Oversight and Financial Performance Committee.

    It follows similar findings that were presented to the council in July, when a Chicago consulting firm made up of retired police chiefs of major cities found serious deficiencies in the sheriff’s internal-investigation procedures. Among the examples was that in all of last year the Internal Investigations Unit reviewed only two use-of-force complaints.

    Sheriff Steve Strachan, who is running for election this year after being appointed in April to replace outgoing Sheriff Sue Rahr, said Monday he concurs with the recommendations in the new report.

    Strachan said many changes are already being implemented, including a concerted effort that began three months ago to bring about a new use-of-force board.

    But half will require bargaining with the King County Police Officers Guild, said Strachan, who previously agreed with proposals in the July audit to bolster internal investigations.

    “Our challenge is not to get distracted by politics,” he said, alluding to the premature release of the report.

    Strachan’s opponent, John Urquhart, a former sheriff’s sergeant and longtime media spokesman for the department, called Monday for a “change in leadership,” saying in a statement that Strachan has had more than 1 ½ years to fix problems raised in the audit and the new report. Rahr hired Strachan as her chief deputy in January 2011.

    Office “understaffed”

    The new report was requested by King County’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO), which is headed by a civilian director, Charles Gaither, a former investigator with the Los Angeles Police Department. Gaither warned after the release of the earlier audit that the U.S. Department of Justice might next look at the Sheriff’s Office in the way it has focused on the Seattle Police Department.

    The new report found OLEO is “understaffed to an astonishing degree,” that more resources “should be provided … rapidly,” and that the office should have authority to reject inadequate use-of-force reviews.

    It also suggests stronger policies covering, among other things, the use of deadly force, pepper spray and Tasers.

    In its centerpiece recommendation regarding a use-of-force board, the report said investigations should include “a more robust examination and a point-by-point analysis of a given incident” to determine whether sheriff’s employees violated criminal law or department policies, made good strategic and tactical decisions and acted consistent with training.

    The board, the report says, should consider whether the department needs policy or training changes and examine whether “realistic alternatives” to the use of force would have led to the safe capture of a suspect without compromising the safety of deputies.

    High-profile case

    The report draws attention to a case in which an internal review found a deputy’s use of force was “not unreasonable,” even though county lawyers viewed the incident as running a “high risk of an astronomical judgment.”

    “What we found was that the case had not been rigorously analyzed by KCSO and that its conclusions were not supported by the record,” the report says, noting a “troubling” lack of reasoning and critical analysis.

    While the report only describes the case as receiving widespread public attention, it appears to be referring to the county’s $10 million settlement last year with the family of Christopher Sean Harris, whom a sheriff’s deputy shoved into a concrete wall in 2009. Harris, formerly of Edmonds, suffered a catastrophic brain injury requiring round-the-clock care.

    His wife filed a lawsuit, accusing Deputy Matthew Paul of acting negligently and using excessive force.

    The sheriff’s review lacked any discussion of the deputy’s previous uses of force or misconduct, the report says.

    Other points

    A major flaw in the department’s procedures, the report says, is allowing deputies up to 72 hours to submit a written statement on their use of force.

    The delay allows deputies to reconstruct events, rather than “purely recollecting” them, the report says. “We believe that a deputy involved in a shooting should be treated as any other traumatized civilian in an investigation,” it says.

    Statements should no longer be in writing and be immediately taken by a commanding officer who can ask “insightful questions,” the report says. In a review of 15 shootings in which 11 people were hit and eight died, statements from deputies were “often truncated and self-serving,” it says.

    Strachan said making that change might require bargaining with the guild.

    The report cites many examples of excellent law-enforcement work in “high-pressure” situations.

    Nonetheless, improvements are needed, the report says, including greater use of less-lethal options — including Tasers, tear gas, beanbag guns and pepper spray — that also should be considered in shooting reviews.

    Noting that many shootings are of people who are intoxicated or experiencing mental problems, the report recommends that the Sheriff’s Office develop a crisis-intervention team. It also recommends that the office focus its investigations more on the deputies, witnesses and the incidents rather than on circumstances surrounding the suspect.

    “In nearly all of the reports, there is twice the information on how the evidence was collected than the shooting incident itself,” the report says.

    Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

    Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

  • King County Sheriff’s Candidate Receives Major Endorsements This Week

    By Jennifer Sullivan

    Seattle Times, Published September 6, 2012

    King County Sheriff candidate John Urquhart has captured the support of his longtime former boss, U.S Rep. Dave Reichert.

    The Republican congressman who served as King County Sheriff from 1997-2004, called Urquhart, in a statement, ” a leader of rock-solid principles and integrity.”

    “John knows and deeply cares about our community and those who are serving us in the Sheriff’s Office,” said Reichert. “I have seen him turn entire communities around because of his persistence and intelligence. He’s a cop’s cop and a leader who has my respect, complete trust and wholehearted endorsement. John will be a great sheriff.”

    Urquhart and Reichert worked closely during the congressman’s years as Sheriff. Urquhart was Reichert’s media-relations officer; their offices were several doors down from one another. Urquhart, who in September retired from the sheriff’s office after 32 years, spent nearly half his career as the department’s media-relations officer.

    In April, Urquhart announced that he will be running against current King County Sheriff Steve Strachan. Strachan, the former police chief in Kent and and a police chief, city-council member and state legislator in Minnesota, was formally appointed  when former Sheriff Sue Rahr retired earlier this year.

    Urquhart also gained another major endorsement on the other side of the political spectrum this week.

    Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, a liberal Democrat, said he supports Urquhart’s push for law-enforcement accountability and “race and social justice.” Holmes said that Urquhart also supports Initiative-502, the legalization of marijuana for adults over the age of 21.

    “I’ve been talking with John for many months,” Holmes said this morning.

  • Urquhart Backing Left & Right: Holmes & Reichert

    By Joel Connelly

    Seattle P-I, September 5, 2012

    Retired Sgt. John Urquhart has captured support from a leading Seattle progressive and a Republican congressman in his bid to become King County Sheriff.

    “He’s a good guy,” said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who endorsed Urquhart on Labor Day.

    U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, who served as King County Sheriff from 1997 to 2004, rarely gives a speech on any subject without mentioning that he is a former sheriff.  “He’s a cop’s cop and a leader who has my respect, complete trust and wholehearted endorsement,” Reichert said of Urquhart.

    Urquhart, who retired after 24 years with the sheriff’s office, was a longtime spokesman for Reichert and his successor Sue Rahr.  Rahr left the sheriff’s office to head the State Criminal Justice Training Commission.

    Urquhart is pitted against interim Sheriff Steve Strachan, Rahr’s hand-picked successor.  Strachan was police chief in Kent until tapped to become Rahr’s chief deputy.  He previously served as a police officer in Minnesota and a state legislator.