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Dow Constantine
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Dow Constantine accused of using elite detectives as personal chauffeurs

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

King County Executive Dow Constantine is facing allegations that he has been abusing the privilege of his personal protection unit, even trying to retaliate against a detective he suspected spoke to the media about those allegations.

When you’re in a high-profile position like the county executive, it’s not unusual to get threats against you or your family. That’s why veteran, specially-trained detectives from the King County Sheriff’s Office are assigned to what’s known as the Executive Protection Unit.

But, detectives assigned to that unit say they’re being used less for their intended purpose as security, and more as personal chauffeurs. Complaints go back years.

“He ought to be following the rules, which means you don’t ditch your protection, which he does,” a source close to the Executive Protection Unit told KIRO Radio on the condition of anonymity. “You don’t use the protection to drive your family around when you’re not there, which he does, and you treat the detectives with some sort of respect.”

That source noted detectives in the EPU have, at times, been used to drive Constantine around to sporting events, concerts, restaurants, bars, and even his bi-weekly hair appointments.

While transportation is one facet of the EPU’s job, the other — and arguably more important — part involves being in his immediate vicinity at all times to provide protection. But according to our source, these detectives are left in the car by Constantine while he goes about his business.

“Oftentimes Dow wants his people outside, down the street, in their car, and he’s even been known to duck out the back door and go to a different restaurant or to a different bar,” our source described.

Security or personal drivers

A second anonymous source claimed that not long after Constantine became the King County Executive, it became clear to his protection detail that nearly five nights a week, Constantine would expect to be driven to a bar, and code it on the schedule as a “meeting.” A detective would then wait outside while the Executive would drink with a member of his staff.

Several emails obtained through a public disclosure request, and others provided through an anonymous source, support these allegations. A 2017 email revealed that in one instance, a detective waited for the Executive outside a bar, and then received a text hours later from Constantine, who had left the bar but forgot to tell the detective still waiting outside.

Another email from 2018 describes how a detective on the clock drove Constantine and staffers to the airport to board a flight to Wenatchee, and was then told to drive to Wenatchee himself, pick them up, and drive them back to Seattle. Rather than taking a direct route back to Seattle, though, the detective was then instructed to reroute to Skykomish to stop at a bar.

All this has prompted numerous complaints within the department, with detectives assigned to the unit pointing out in internal emails that they should be operating as trained security, not personal drivers.

These complaints have allegedly been circulating for several years, but according to sources, no one wants to call out Constantine for fear of retaliation.

Retaliation

When KIRO Radio began researching this story, a King County employee claims that Constantine had one of his staffers meet with the sergeant in charge of the EPU, in an attempt to remove a detective from the team. The alleged reason? After an initial public disclosure request for emails, Constantine’s office suspected that a specific detective was leaking information to KIRO Radio. He wasn’t.

Both the sergeant in charge of the unit and Constantine’s office have denied that ever occurred.

Constantine declined a request for an interview, although a representative from his office did state that the Executive had “not heard that any member of the EPU had raised issues,” and that they would expect anyone with concerns to bring them “up through the appropriate chain of command.”

However, a 2016 email exchange appears to contradict that statement. In the exchange, a former EPU sergeant wrote to an employee in Constantine’s office, saying that the EPU was being tasked to work events that did not require security, and without proper notice ahead of time.

Currently, we are scrambling to accommodate DC [Constantine] in his events tomorrow afternoon and evening, even though at this point there does not seem to be a security aspect for these activities (at least known at this time…).

I know that we have spoken of this before, but is there a way that we can lock down DC [Constantine] a bit more on his activities? Clearly understanding that DC [Constantine] does things a bit differently than the previous occupants, this can wreak havoc on our small unit.

Further on in the email exchange, the former sergeant noted that these have been concerns dating back years, and that “non-scheduled activities … arise fairly regularly.”

“Nothing in the email sent is anything that we have not spoken about over the last four years on repeated occasions, and falls in line with what other protection details are experiencing,” he continued.

Both sources agree that Constantine deserves and needs protection, but should not be abusing it the way they allege he has.

Cost of transportation

These hours add up, too. Last year, King County paid over $73,000 just in Executive Protection overtime alone.

That doesn’t include the 24/7 protection paid to a private security firm after non-violent protesters showed up in front of Constantine’s house one night in April 2018 and posted fliers.

A source said the sheriff’s office declared there was no longer a threat, and therefore would not continue to shell out thousands of dollars a week to protect Constantine’s house round the clock. Per that source, this prompted Constantine to dip into the King County Facilities Management Division to pay over $200,000 to a private security firm, until December 2018.

King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht declined a request for an interview, but provided the following statement:

There is no doubt that Executive Constantine needs a security detail while in public.

I support the work our detectives do in providing this critical service.

However, no complaint has ever been forwarded to me through their chain of command or brought to me directly.

I have already begun the process of determining next steps.

MyNorthwest’s Nick Bowman contributed to this report.

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