Sheriff's Deputy Fired For Harassing Journalist Taking Photos Of An Arrest On A Public Street

from the protecting-citizens-rather-than-deputies:-so-crazy-it-might-work dept

Here’s something that’s all too uncommon in the police world, so enjoy the moment.

A King County sheriff’s deputy who threatened to arrest an editor for The Stranger weekly newspaper during a sidewalk confrontation in July has been fired by Sheriff John Urquhart.

Deputy Patrick Saulet, a 27-year veteran with a troubled disciplinary history, was terminated at the end of the business day Monday, according to Urquhart.

According to the complaint filed by Dominic Holden (the editor who was harassed), Deputy Saulet became “agitated and confrontational” when he noticed Holden taking pictures of an arrest that occurred on a public street. An internal investigation found that Saulet “recast” the confrontation to put it in a more favorable light, deliberately obscuring the fact that he threatened to arrest Holden for (basically) performing his job and “misidentifying” public property as private property. Another deputy, John Marion, was suspended for a day (without pay) over the same incident, after it came to light that he threatened to harass Holden at his workplace.

So far, so good. Rather than letting this slide, the sheriff fired the deputy. Surprisingly, the strongest words used against Saulet came from the letter accompanying his pink slip — written by his former boss, Sheriff Urquhart.

“Your ill-advised actions also play to some of the most basic fears among some citizens, which is that a police officer may indiscriminately exercise his or her power in violation of their rights, because in the event of a complaint, the officer will just deny the allegation and ‘circle the wagons’ with his or her fellow officers on the expectation they will take care of their own.”

This is a rather bold admission of the attitude that’s almost omnipresent in law enforcement agencies across the nation. The “basic fears” Urquhart writes of aren’t unfounded. Example after example exists of LEOs making up the rules as they go along (and reinterpreting laws on the spot), secure in the knowledge that the system will protect them. (And in some cases, return them to their jobs despite their supervisors’ obvious desire to be rid of them.) Firing Saulet is a small step towards restoring the public’s trust. But lurking behind this stark acknowledgement of the corrupted system is more evidence that the system — even Sheriff Urquhart’s — is still severely broken.

Saulet was demoted from sergeant last year after Urquhart found he had harassed a family in a vehicle that had made a wrong turn into an area reserved for King County Metro Transit vehicles.

Overall, Urquhart wrote, Saulet had been the subject of about 120 allegations, with 21 sustained. Saulet had racked up more complaints on the force than any other King County deputy, according to a demotion letter previously obtained by The Stranger.

Saulet has been a problem for a long time. That the Sheriff is unwilling to let this last one slide isn’t really a victory — it’s simply the end result of an ugly history that could no longer be ignored. An action like this should have been taken long before Saulet racked up his 21st sustained complaint. And, unfortunately, Saulet still has the option to work with an arbitrator to reclaim his position — a position of responsibility and power he’s clearly unfit to fill.

So, it’s a small step forward for the King County Sheriff’s Department, but one that follows several steps backwards. A sustained movement forward is what’s needed to start shifting the balance of power back towards King County residents. Urquhart seems to be ready to do exactly that, but Saulet’s long rap sheet points to a long history of “circled wagons” and ineffective wrist slaps.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Sheriff's Deputy Fired For Harassing Journalist Taking Photos Of An Arrest On A Public Street”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Where's the DOJ?

If the DOJ was doing their jobs, correctly, we would have a lot less of this. Civil rights violations are directly in their purview. These are civil rights violations. The Fed’s. should be stepping in, and they are not.

I guess they are too busy trying to figure out how to crucify MegaUpload and Edward Snowden, at the same time appeasing Hollywood and their various minions, whilst all along preparing to use Drones on US citizens on US soil without a trial, facilitated by lying to congress and various judges.

Ok, we have means and opportunity, motive anyone?

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Where's the DOJ?

Exactly. That worked for us once, a couple hundred years ago, and we really got lucky. Not sure how well it would go a second time.

I remember when all the uprising was going on in Egypt, and when they finally threw Mubarak out, a bunch of people were saying “we’re free now.” That’s when I knew they were doomed, because they didn’t get it. I said, if they can establish a replacement government that guarantees basic, universal civil rights and religious freedom, and keep Islamic theocratic ideas out of it, for five years, then they can truly say they’re free. But of course that’s not what they did, and just look at where Egypt is now…

Anonymous Coward says:

One of the attributes destroying the unity of the nation is the observation by the average citizen that this government is corrupt from the top levels right down to the local levels. People still love their country but their view of the circumstances they find themselves in has been deteriorating steadily.

From people and household pets being killed in no knock warrants only to find it being the wrong household, right down to the militarization of the local police force in their home towns.

Hardly a month goes by here at Techdirt that some article isn’t put up for all to see that carries this theme on while the national media seeks to disguise these same events by no coverage at all.

Time and again we see that police officers appear to be deathly afraid of the camera wielded by a citizen or a local news reporter in what looks to be a phobia of being scared of being seen in images of not doing their jobs as they are charged to uphold.

It is precisely events such as this that is destroying that unity. The idea that it took 120 events of which 21 were ruled valid says that more than I can. The question in my mind is just how many more which were not found valid were.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

At the end of the day

There’s still too many cops out there who believe it’s their god-given right to bust anyone for recording police activity on the public ways.

And there’s still too many police departments happy to ignore them, let alone fire them.

Kudos to that Sheriff. Perhaps his pink slip explanation should be emailed to every police department in the country for future reference.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Police vs. The Citizens

Rather than weakening it, your question actually reinforces the point you replied to.

They can’t know that the camera pointed at them isn’t a weapon. But they should assume that it isn’t. They are not in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are on US soil. They are not in a war. They are civilian police officers. Geez, even the military understands that they should win the hearts and minds of the local citizenry. Yet police departments seem to believe it’s a good idea to alienate the local citizens they are supposed to serve and protect.

Assuming that every camera is a weapon is exactly part of the problem. They see everything as Police vs. Citizens. They need banish that thinking. Police are citizens, who have accepted a privileged position. They need to recognize the responsibility in their hands and act accordingly.

I do understand that there are dangerous areas that more closely resemble a war zone than a neighborhood. Of course, police should act accordingly. But the police need to recognize that not every street in the USA is a war zone. In fact the vast majority are not.

Anonymous Fighter says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So let me get this straight. You’re saying that all police officers are so stupid, do dumb, and so blind that they can’t tell the difference between someone holding a camera right in front of their nose and a criminal pointing a gun at them?

And these are the people we trust to protect us?
I’m tired of the the old police excuse of “I’m dumb as shit and have no common sense so I have to assume…”

I call bullshit.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And that lolipop, it might actually be plastic explosives…

And that can of soda, that might be filled with fuel to start a fire…

What about that pen, is it a pen, or perhaps it’s a detonator to something…

Spare me, if a cop is so paranoid that they’re worrying about a camera because it might be a gun(and I don’t believe for a second that more than a handful actually do, they know full well it’s a camera, they just don’t want their activities recorded), then they need to be off the force, and put into psych counseling, as it’s obvious they’re burned out and have let the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality affect them to a dangerous degree.

Fitzwilly (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 We need what they've got in Japan as far as training of cops is concerned...

Education is highly stressed in police recruitment and promotion. Entrance to the force is determined by examinations administered by each prefecture. Examinees are divided into two groups: upper-secondary-school graduates and university graduates. Recruits underwent rigorous training?one year for upper-secondary school graduates and six months for university graduates?at the residential police academy attached to the prefectural headquarters. On completion of basic training, most police officers are assigned to local police boxes called Kobans. Promotion is achieved by examination and requires further course work. In-service training provides mandatory continuing education in more than 100 fields. Police officers with upper-secondary school diplomas are eligible to take the examination for sergeant after three years of on-the-job experience. University graduates can take the examination after only one year. University graduates are also eligible to take the examination for assistant police inspector, police inspector, and superintendent after shorter periods than upper-secondary school graduates. There are usually five to fifteen examinees for each opening.

About fifteen officers per year pass advanced civil service examinations and are admitted as senior officers. Officers are groomed for administrative positions, and, although some rise through the ranks to become senior administrators, most such positions are held by specially recruited senior executives.

The police forces are subject to external oversight. Although officials of the National Public Safety Commission generally defer to police decisions and rarely exercise their powers to check police actions or operations, police are liable for civil and criminal prosecution, and the media actively publicizes police misdeeds. The Human Rights Bureau of the Ministry of Justice solicits and investigates complaints against public officials, including police, and prefectural legislatures could summon police chiefs for questioning. Social sanctions and peer pressure also constrain police behavior. As in other occupational groups in Japan, police officers develop an allegiance to their own group and a reluctance to offend its principles.

Law enforcement in Japan-Conditions of service

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That is about the most idiotic excuse I have heard in a long time, but I’ll answer your question anyway.

It’s because a gun and a camera look nothing alike. If someone given authority to carry a gun and enforce laws can’t tell the difference between a camera and a gun then you have to question whether they should be granted that authority.

Nicci Stevens (profile) says:

Urqhart was elected quite handily over in Nov 2012. By and large he is a trusted law enforcement officer in an area where those phrases aren’t used together as a rule. Seattle is the seat of King County and the Seattle Police Department has been the subject of DOJ investigation and monitoring for numerous civil rights violations and worse. The KCSD has been a little better but far from stellar. Under Sue Rahr and Steve Strachan there were numerous rights violations as well. Urqhart’s pledge during his campaign was to clean up KCSD and it is good to hear that there is at least some headway along those lines. Oddly, while I pay attention to numerous local news sources, this one went under the radar.

Anonymous Coward says:

A days suspension without pay, oh, im sure he regrets his actions, in the meantime he’s free the next day, to go out and break another constitution

Harsher penalties, no harsher then a firing, dependant on the crime…….YES, CRIME…… sick and tired of the “law keepers” not being described for what they are in an action they take, because it feels “weird” to do so……..i recognise my conditioning

GEMont (profile) says:

COPture, Police Policer, Rap-App, Bust Trust.....

I don’t actually own a cell phone – for reasons I won’t get into here – but, as everyone else I know does, I was wondering if anyone knows of, or has heard of an app that lets you turn on your phone’s recording with a single button press and downloads the results to a safe location, say on a website somewhere, in real time, without actually displaying anything that would let someone else inspecting the phone know that the phone was recording or downloading?

Or perhaps a device that does the same thing….

Something needs to become available to the public to combat this blatant disregard for civil rights and law by what passes today for police officers, as it does not appear that its going to get any better any time soon, and in fact seems to be getting worse every day.

I’m actually thinking of something like a First Alert devise but specifically for recording false arrests and cell phone confiscations (or even muggings and robberies) that has an instant download aspect to prevent LEOs from erasing the evidence. It would be best if it looked perhaps like a heavy key-ring or wrist watch.

If nothing like this exists, it might be an interesting Crowd-sourced Project.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...