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. icon
    Fitzwilly (profile), 11 Feb 2014 @ 8:30am

    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

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