King County Sheriff fires sergeant for offensive texts to other deputies

King County Sheriff fires sergeant for offensive texts to other deputies

Sheriff John Urquhart has fired a veteran Metro Transit sergeant for sending racist, homophobic and lewd texts to other deputies, including a female subordinate who the sheriff says seemed to welcome most of the sexual messages.

Sheriff John Urquhart has fired a veteran sergeant for sending racist, anti-gay and sexually charged texts to other deputies, including a female subordinate.

Urquhart, in a five-page letter written to former Sgt. Dewey Burns last week, said he had sustained disciplinary findings that Burns violated sheriff’s policies and engaged in “racial, ethnic and homophobic” comments that embarrassed the Sheriff’s Office and were not “true to the ethics of police service.”

According to an internal investigation, Burns sent racist, homophobic and lewd texts to Deputy Amy Shoblom and another deputy, and at one point drew a penis on Shoblom’s patrol car with soap.

In the texts, he used slurs to refer to blacks, gay men, Mexicans and Chinese, some of whom he encountered at a poker room and a gym. In one, he referred to a Latino sergeant as “the Mexi.”

Urquhart said the written comments “are shocking and can’t be ignored or explained away.”

“The public would never stand for a police officer making these comments, much less writing them down via text to a subordinate. Nor should they. Nor will I. They are egregious.”

Burns, a 16-year Sheriff’s Office veteran, was fired for making those comments.

In addition, Urquhart imposed a demotion to deputy and a 30-day suspension. Those punishments are held in abeyance while Burns decides whether to appeal his termination.

His termination is effective on May 1, according to the letter.

A telephone call Monday evening to Burns’ attorney, Bob Christie, was not returned.

Urquhart did not sustain disciplinary findings on some allegations, finding that “the vast majority” of the sexually charged texts were welcomed by Shoblom, and that “on many occasions Deputy Shoblom instigated the highly sexualized texting between the two of you.”

Shoblom and two other female deputies, Diana Neff and Julie Blessum, last week filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office, alleging sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

While Shoblom has claimed it was a situation of “go along to get along,” the sheriff said, he noted that Burns was her supervisor for only a brief period during the texting incidents, and that many of the texts were sent after she was off his squad.

Julie Kays, Shoblom’s attorney, disputes any suggestion that Shoblom brought sexual harassment on herself.

“Women who have the courage to report sexual harassment should be applauded, not thrown under the bus,” Kays said.

“There is a pattern and practice at the (King County Sheriff’s Office) of sweeping complaints of sexual harassment under the rug, and pointing the finger of blame at the woman who had the courage to come forward and report it,” Kays said Monday. “Sadly, that pattern continues today.”

Burns was a supervisor in the sheriff’s Metro Transit Division until he was placed on leave last year when Shoblom and the two other deputies filed a claim against the county.

A sweeping internal investigation showed a sexually charged relationship between Shoblom and Burns and incidents in which Burns compromised his duties to pursue it.

Urquhart acknowledged that, during a face-to-face hearing with Burns on April 13, the sergeant took full responsibility for his actions and presented “several mitigating factors,” including his claim that some of the terms he used were meant to be endearing. He contends a number of others in the department refer to a particular Latino sergeant as “the Mexi.”

In an earlier interview, Christie, Burns’ attorney, said the sergeant was “not proud he used those words and took full responsibility that those were completely inappropriate.”

Christie said the veteran sergeant received high marks in his 2014 job evaluation.

Urquhart said he did not find Burns’ explanations compelling.

Information in this article, originally published April 27, 2015, was corrected April 28, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Julie Kays’ name.

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