The King County sheriff’s office says an on-duty deputy was arrested after he appeared to be passed out at the wheel of his parked patrol car on New Year’s Eve.
King County Sheriff John Urquhart said that a citizen called 911 when he observed the deputy hunched over the steering wheel and could not wake him. His car was parked in a Starbucks parking lot in Newcastle.
King County Sheriff’s spokesperson Sgt. Cindi West said the 46-year-old deputy was arrested for suspicion of physical control of a motor vehicle, the legal equivalent of DUI when no driving is observed.
“It looks to us that like he is probably impaired by something that didn’t appear to be alcohol,” Urquhart told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.
Urquhart said drug recognition experts from the Bellevue Police Department, trained in recognizing if someone is impaired by something other than alcohol, believed he was.
“Their conclusion was that yes that this person was impaired by some sort of a drug, possibly a narcotic,” said Urquhart.
The deputy was processed and released by Bellevue Police. A search warrant will be obtained later this week to search the interior of his patrol car for evidence.
“There are two investigations going on. One is a criminal investigation that the Bellevue Police Department is doing. And the other is the internal investigation that my own people are doing,” said Urquhart.
The deputy, a 15-year veteran, is on administrative leave pending those investigations.
“We did take a sample of his blood that will go to the state patrol crime lab and we’ll see what happens when it comes back,” said Urquhart. “I would like nothing better than for it to come back and he be clean and he was just sound asleep. At this point, we don’t know that. He was arrested by the Bellevue Police Department. They developed probable cause to arrest him. They processed him. He’s now on administrative leave and we are waiting for the conclusive evidence from the crime lab.”
Monson tried to gauge how Urquhart might handle a case in which it was determined a deputy was impaired on the job.
“If you had an officer who tested positive, would they be gone?” Monson asked.
“Most likely,” said Urquhart. “Each situation is individual.”
“I’ve always said that cops need to be above reproach,” said Monson. “They have the power of deadly force when we encounter them. I’ve often wondered – and this is a tough balancing act – but if a cop makes bad decisions about their life, how can we trust them with our life?”
Urquhart agreed officers of the law should be held to a higher standard, and said he often reminds his officers of that.
“I meet with my officers all the time and I tell them repeatedly, you are held by a higher standard, by the public, by persons like yourself, but by me as well,” says Urquhart. “They are held to a higher standard. I hold them to a higher standard, and I will not accept any officers who fall below that standard.”
Urquhart said he doesn’t know what will happen in this case. He points out it could be a case where it was a prescribed drug, but he says it could still be illegal to drive under the influence in that case. The department is awaiting the results of the investigations.
“When I look at discipline, when I look at officers, I try to make the distinction was this a mistake of the head, or was this a mistake of the heart. A mistake of the head is they knew they were doing the wrong thing and they did it anyway. A mistake of the heart is you’re trying to do the right thing and they make a mistake, and that does happen,” said Urquhart. “I’m not sure that is going to apply in this case, but it’s one of the things that I look at as I decide on the discipline.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.