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: dominic holden, john urquhart, king county, patrick saulet, police

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2014 @ 5:18am

    Let's not forget that the police are fighting a "war" against crime, and compared to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, (un-"embedded") journalists who cover police are getting off very easy.

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