King County Sheriff defends demoting, not firing troubled sergeant
A veteran King County Sheriff’s sergeant who’s received over 120 misconduct complaints has been demoted in a move King County Sheriff John Urquhart calls a “dramatic step.” But many are wondering how he still has a job at all.
Urquhart told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show he took the drastic actions against Sergeant Patrick “K.C.” Saulet earlier this month after reviewing complaints filed by a family who said the sergeant threatened them and was verbally abusive after their GPS system mistakenly guided them into a restricted Metro Transit area near the Convention Center in Seattle.
In the eight-page demotion letter Urquhart sent to Saulet, obtained by The Stranger, the sheriff blasts him for his actions during the confrontation and the repeated complaints against him.
“It appears you have more allegations against you than any other employee – at least 120. The next closest sergeant has 23,” Urquhart wrote.
“This is something I don’t take lightly and I don’t enjoy doing,” Urquhart told Dori on Tuesday.
Urquhart says the goal of any discipline is to change a deputy’s behavior and make them more responsive to the public.
“Sometimes you do it with a day off, you do it with a written reprimand, or you do it with counseling […] In this particular circumstance I was forced into a demotion.”
The latest incident happened December 9, 2012. The driver, Louis Landry, reported Saulet arrived on the scene and “made a spectacle of everything,” threatened to arrest the family and could “take away your daughter,” according to the letter.
While Saulet defended his actions and claimed he never threatened the family or raised his voice, Urquhart said in the letter, he found Landry’s statement “far more persuasive than your denial.”
It’s the first time Urquhart has demoted a sergeant since his election last November. But it’s far from the first time Saulet has been in trouble. He was demoted in 2008 for another “courtesy violation,” but an arbitrator overturned the demotion.
In his letter, Urquhart also cited complaints in 2001, 2003, and 2011 that resulted in counseling and repeated “Performance Improvement Plans.”
Dori questioned the sheriff as to why he didn’t just fire Saulet. Urquhart responded demotion was the most appropriate action based on the complaint and the options available to him, including “what’s fair to the officer, what’s appropriate, and what he can win in arbitration, which I suspect it will go there.”
While the union will undoubtedly fight the demotion, Urquhart said he has no problem with the system.
“It just means that I have to dot my I’s and cross my T’s and in this state we have the duty to have progressive discipline. As far as I’m concerned, I believe this is progressive discipline.”
But Urquhart said Saulet will remain on a very “short leash.”
“I think the eight-page letter that I sent to him after his most recent hearing with me is evidence of that,” said Urquhart.
Saulet’s demotion comes on the heels of another high-profile incident where he allegedly threatened to arrest The Stranger editor, Dominic Holden, for photographing him legally from the sidewalk during an arrest of another man at the International District Station plaza.
Saulet has been taken off his most recent assignment as a Metro Transit sergeant and has been assigned to patrol duty in Northeast King County.