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Investigators unable to find proof of profiling after spring incident
A King County Sheriff’s Office investigation into alleged racial profiling on the part of two Vashon deputies has found insufficient evidence to prove or disprove a grievance filed by an African American man last spring.
Recently released documents from the investigation show that while the complainant believes deputies treated him harshly because of his race when they were responding to a call about his presence at Jensen Point, the deputies involved say they thought their interaction with the man went well. One deputy, in fact, reported that he had wished at the time that a recruit had been present to see how good contacts with the public are made.
With accounts from both sides conflicting, authorities said they looked for other individuals who had first-hand knowledge of the incident but found no one, leading to the official finding of “non-sustained.”
“We conducted interviews of everyone that was involved,” Sheriff John Urquhart said in a recent email to The Beachcomber. “Then we looked for independent witnesses to the incident. We found none. The end result was a non-sustained finding.”
Last May, Kenneth Richard, an employee with a Seattle company that contracts with the post office, filed the grievance with the the sheriff’s office shortly after deputies spoke with him at the beachfront park in Burton. At the time, Richard said, his job required that he bring the island’s mail over in the morning and take the outgoing mail off the island at the end of the day, giving him free afternoons that he often used to study in his truck at the park. But on May 21, he said, deputies approached him about his presence there and told him that some of the girls on the crew team were intimidated by his presence. Richard reported then that the deputies dealt with him in an aggressive manner, asked him several times if he had a gun in the truck and told him not to return to the park. He filed a formal grievance on May 23.
In an investigation interview, Richard said that deputies told him that people in the neighborhood were worried because their was a “black man in a mail truck” and there was additional concern because the island has rapists and pedophiles — a point he said they brought up often.
Interviews with the deputies, however, paint a different a picture of the exchange, and both deputies said they were extremely surprised by the complaint.
Both deputies, whose names are redacted in the official documents, said they never brought Richard’s race into the conversation and were unaware he is African American until they met. They also said they did not say anything about rapists and pedophiles. One of the deputies, however, said he had told Richard that there was heightened concern on the island because of recent reported cases of child luring. Additionally, in their interviews, the deputies said that Richard was the person who suggested he leave the park, and they told him that was not necessary.
One of the deputies in particular expressed that the allegations run counter to their work on the island.
“It’s just, it’s really, it’s frustrating because … the sheriff’s office on Vashon, unfortunately, has a black eye from a prior deputy going absolutely bezerk,” he said in the interview, referring to former Dep. Kevin Savage, who was fired from the force in 2011. “We’re like trying to, you know, we’re doing such a good job. … I worked the White Center Storefront for several years, and so I’m all about that community relations and that positive image of the sheriff’s office, and that’s what we’re doing on Vashon.”
The investigation documents also include interviews with two islanders peripherally involved with the incident, Tom Kicinski, the assistant rowing coach, and Marianne Metz Lipe, whose daughter rows and who called the police to check into what seemed to some in the rowing community like a potentially suspicious situation.
Kicinski told the investigation interviewer that some parents had shared their concerns about who might be driving the large, white truck, which appeared to be unmarked. Kicinski said the truck kept showing up about 20 minutes before practice, parking up close to the water. No one ever got out, Kicinski said, but he would notice the truck leave during practice. Because the cab was elevated, they could not see in. Additionally, Kicinski said, some of the girls on the crew team commute and often saw the same truck on their morning ferry to the island — a combination that left them and their parents feeling uneasy. Lipe told the interviewer that when she learned of the concerns, she offered to call authorities the next time the truck appeared.
Kicinski said on May 21, he texted Lipe that the truck was back, and when she received the text, she called to ask deputies to come look into the situation. She said she did not know at that time Richard is African American, and the recording of her call indicates that she made no mention of race. When the deputies came, Kicinski said he was out on the water coaching, but from his vantage point, 200 to 300 yard away, the interaction between the deputies and Richard seemed casual.
Reached last week, Richard noted his disappointment in the investigation’s outcome.
“I don’t think it was fair or just,” he said.
He has not been back to Jensen Point since that day, he said, and now parks his truck by the post office and spends his off-hours at the library to avoid such an encounter again. He would have liked an apology, he said, and added that he declined to pursue further action because he works for a friend and does not want to cause any difficulties for him.
In his emailed comments about the investigation, Sheriff Urquhart noted that the major at the Burien precinct is African American. The major reviewed the investigation and determined the finding should be non-sustained. He could have asked for more information if he had found anything missing, Urquhart said, but did not.
Urquhart added that the investigation was reviewed for fairness by the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, a civilian auditor. The director of that agency is African American as well. Finally, Urquhart said, one of the deputies involved has two African American step children.
Richard can appeal the results of the investigation, Urquhart noted, and if islanders wish to read the complete investigation, they can do so by filing a public information request at www.kingcounty.gov/safety/sheriff/Services/PublicDisclosure.aspx.