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Deborah Jacobs
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Rantz: ‘Toxic’ law enforcement oversight director faces discipline for shocking bigotry

Deborah Jacobs. (OLEO, Facebook)

As director for the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO), Deborah Jacobs normally investigates alleged instances of police misconduct in the King County Sheriff’s Office. Now, Jacobs faces her own investigation and possible discipline after a complainant alleged her department was a “toxic” work environment.

Jacobs stands accused of making a number of bigoted, deeply offensive comments, including saying only a white man could do certain jobs at OLEO, excluding transgender women from a party, and telling a Black employee that a Black-owned business was “ghetto.” She’s also accused of hiring friends over more qualified candidates and has routinely called the Sheriff’s Deputies she oversees “[expletive] heads.” And it’s not the first time she’s faced troubling accusations.

King County Council discussed the complaint during an Executive Session this week. A source with direct knowledge of the complaint confirmed the council is investigating and believes discipline seems likely, but not certain. The timeline on a resolution could take up to a month.

The complaint

An anonymous complaint, obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, was mailed on June 20, 2020, to the King County Council Clerk signed by a “concerned King County community member.” The complainant offers enough specific details to imply they either work at OLEO or have direct connections to OLEO members.

The two-page letter alleges a number of complaints, calling Jacobs a “toxic individual” who should not be in charge of law enforcement oversight.

“The King County Council should take this letter and its contents seriously, especially in a time where the County deserves a police oversight leader that leads with fairness and not with egregious and continuous discriminatory language and behavior,” the letter notes.

Jacobs did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Jacobs accused of bigotry

The OLEO director faces six separate accusations concerning bigoted statements or views.

When Jacobs was having “a party for women,” she’s allegedly told colleagues that “she was intentionally excluding transgender women from her invitation.” One of the colleagues she told, according to the complaint, is a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

According to the complaint, Jacobs “referred to a Black owned business as ‘ghetto'” when speaking with a Black employee. When talking with an Asian colleague, she’s made “several racist comments about Asians.” More specifically, in one conversation with an Asian employee, the director allegedly noted that “an ideal Deputy Director would be a white man.”

When it comes to members of the public living with disabilities, the complainant also alleges discrimination.

“Director Jacobs refuses to talk to concerned community members who call the office,” the complaint notes. “She stated on multiple occasions that she does not want to speak with community members with known mental disabilities.”

A source close to the situation explains to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH this isn’t the first complaint Jacobs has faced. She was previously accused of commenting on a deceased Black man’s genitalia after a visit to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. A source tells me she denied the allegation.

Questionable hiring practices

The complaint accuses Jacobs of engaging in questionable hiring practices, including hiring her friends as consultants rather than qualified candidates.

“These consultants often perform below standards and create a large burden for OLEO employees where they were supposed to be supplemented,” the complaint alleges.

“In a time like this, Director Jacobs is the epitome of who you do not want as a leader in law enforcement oversight,” the complaint reads. “She has discriminated against all of her own employees. She has created a perception of staff diversity that masks the real issues within OLEO.”

One hiring decision, per the complaint, benefited a friend’s husband. The complaint alleges the friend’s husband, who is white, makes more money than a role with more responsibility held by an Asian woman.

Butting heads with KCSO

Jacobs was appointed the OLEO director in 2016 for a five-year term, which is up in 2021. She’s not been particularly well-received by law enforcement in King County. Deputies view her as an anti-law enforcement activist, while others have called her out publicly. Indeed, the complaint alleges Jacobs refers to the deputies she’s tasked to oversee as “[expletive] heads” to colleagues.

Recently, Jacobs butted heads with King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht on the department’s use of force policy. Jacobs criticized the KCSO policy as “mostly a subjective standard.” Johanknecht called this “intentional or reckless misrepresentation.”

In a scathing July 7, 2020, letter obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, the Sheriff told Jacobs, “it is hard to believe you could be so unclear on the standard in the policy that OLEO assisted in redrafting of our force policy over the course of months …”

“The provisions in KCSO’s standard are based on recent revisions to the state law and a United States Supreme Court decision,” Johanknecht wrote. “If you are unfamiliar with these laws and standards, we submit that it would be appropriate to refrain from comment, rather than misrepresent the standard. It is troubling that you suggest changes to a policy that you either have not read, or do not understand.”

A pattern?

These kinds of concerns — insinuating Jacobs intentionally mischaracterizes the work of law enforcement — have plagued the director during her tenure in King County and elsewhere.

“There’s been a lot of trust issues,” Steve Eggert, retired president of the King County Police Officers Guild, stated at a briefing of the Council in March of this year. “I think that she tends to skirt her authority on what she’s allowed to do. ”

He went on to note that OLEO is “supposed to hold us accountable to the rules. I think it should be expected that [OLEO] should also have to follow those rules.”

As Executive Director of the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Jacobs went toe-to-toe with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) over police misconduct at the Newark Police Department. Under her leadership, Jacobs compiled a report about misconduct and sent it directly to the U.S. Justice Department when she didn’t hear back from Booker fast enough.

“If Deborah Jacobs and her team really want to help, this is probably one of the worst ways,” Booker said in a 2019 interview with WNYC radio. “We are making progress, and we don’t need people who are going to frustrate, undermine, and mischaracterize our agency.”

Jacobs jumps on perceived culture issues

Over the weekend, community activists took issue with offensive social media posts by King County Sheriff’s detective Mike Brown. Among the posts was a meme showing a vehicle running over people with the caption, “All Lives Splatter.”

While Johanknecht quickly placed Brown on administrative leave pending an investigation, OLEO pushed out a press release implying KCSO wasn’t acting swiftly or appropriately.

“Community members expect law enforcement agencies to fulfill their commitment to public service – which means creating a culture that builds trust and belief in their legitimacy and commitment to fair and humane policing,” Jacobs said in the press release.

Ironically, it’s the complaints arguing it’s the OLEO office culture that’s problematic.

“Again, how can OLEO oversee law enforcement when its own leader embodies the very issues it hopes to dismantle within KCSO?” the complaint concludes. “If Director Jacobs is reappointed, the hostile and discriminatory work environment will continue and King County risks its reputation as an equitable employer and may lose highly competent employees. The time to act is now.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter and Instagram or like me on Facebook

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