Rantz: County director commented on dead man’s genitalia — complaint swept under rug?

Jul 13, 2020, 7:32 PM | Updated: Jul 14, 2020, 11:04 am
Deborah Jacobs...
Deborah Jacobs. (OLEO, Facebook)
(OLEO, Facebook)

A complaint lodged against a powerful law enforcement oversight director was mishandled and swept under the rug, according to a King County Sheriff’s Deputy who is now speaking on the record.

Deputy Jesse Herrera says Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) director Deborah Jacobs commented on the size of a deceased man’s genitalia at the Medical Examiner’s Office during the autopsy of 20-year-old Tommy Le. Jacobs currently faces an unrelated complaint, investigated last week, alleging a toxic work environment due to racism and transphobia.

Though Herrera’s complaint was forwarded to the King County Council, he argues the investigation wasn’t taken seriously. Sources tell the Jason Rantz Show that they perceive Jacobs as well-liked and protected by some councilmembers. Indeed, text messages reveal the director may have cozy relationships with at least two councilmembers.

Read the complaint.

The shocking complaint

Herrera was working on the high-profile officer involved shooting investigation of Le when he met Jacobs on July 14, 2017, at the Medical Examiner’s Office for the young man’s autopsy.

While there, he says Jacobs saw a nude, deceased man unrelated to the case, waiting for an autopsy. That’s where Herrera complains Jacobs became wildly inappropriate and unprofessional. According to the complaint:

Deborah looked at me and said ‘Did you see the guy with the big penis?’ I told her no as I looked over to the rest of the deceased bodies. She then said, ‘that one, what causes that?’ I saw the deceased body she was talking about and told her it was probably a result of all the blood rushing to the lower part of the body. This made me uncomfortable and I walked away from her …

Herrera was shocked and offended.

“In my 20 years of being a deputy, I have never experienced anything like that, especially in that sort of environment, because that’s somebody’s son, father, brother, potentially grandfather and that’s not respectful at all,” Herrera exclusively tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

Herrera says the comment was “definitely sexual in nature” and made him feel uncomfortable enough to complain to the Sheriff’s Office. The complaint made its way to Carolyn Busch, chief of staff to the Council.

Jacobs doesn’t deny substance of allegations

Jacobs doesn’t deny the comment was made, though she quibbles with the use of the word “penis” during the chat. The OLEO director wrote her recollection of the conversation in a statement during the investigation:

… I remembered that while waiting on the autopsy there was casual conversation, including one of the law enforcement professionals present mentioning that the bodies undergoing autopsy looked like movie props. Later I asked about the condition of one of the bodies, the bottom half of which was abnormally engorged. Deputy Herrera answered that the likelihood is that the person died while sitting up and remained in that position for some time.

I don’t remembering [sic] using the word ‘penis’ but it’s possible I did, considering it’s an anatomical description.

I am confident that my tone or language was in no way disrespectful toward the deceased.

Jacobs went on to say she didn’t think she engaged in wrongdoing, but “because it apparently offended Deputy Herrera,” she offered to apologize.

The mishandling claim

Herrera believes the investigation wasn’t taken seriously. He said he had to insist several times that it be fully investigated. Busch herself noted in her report that she looked into the issue “primarily due to Deputy Herrera’s insistence,” implying something like this wouldn’t normally be investigated.

The investigation went forward but the Deputy says he wasn’t contacted by Busch until her conclusion had been reached. And the Council never heard from him, either. Instead, they were just given findings.

Though Busch says there was a good faith attempt to connect Herrera with Jacobs to discuss the concerns, she implies Herrera simply wasn’t interested. She doesn’t, however, note why. Herrera says he wouldn’t meet with Jacobs before the investigation was underway because it didn’t seem appropriate until after findings were presented.

“If the roles were switched … my name would be plastered all over the news,” Herrera explained. “I probably wouldn’t be talking to you today if I made a comment about female genitalia … So I basically told [Busch] I want an investigation done.”

The findings

Busch found that while the comments were unprofessional, she felt confident that Jacobs would not repeat the behavior.

“Deborah Jacobs has committed to the Chief of Staff to be more thoughtful and intentional in her comments with all officers in the future,” the report concludes. “She recognizes that being involved in law enforcement oversight may inspire unintentional tension and her curious and friendly demeanor can be misunderstood.”

No disciplinary action was taken. The Employment and Administration Committee was offered the report and the issue was closed. But not for Herrera, who called the investigation “one sided.”

Special treatment?

Herrera believes Jacobs has a cozy relationship with county Councilmembers Joe McDermott and Dave Upthegrove. He suspects they protected Jacobs from any additional fallout.

As proof, Herrera points to text conversations between Jacobs and the two councilmembers that shows them to be friendly. He discovered the texts from a public disclosure request and shared them with the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

Upthegrove had a close enough relationship with Jacobs to joke about a meeting he was attending during a text exchange on July 16, 2018, as they discussed meeting for dinner or drinks after a meeting.

“You couldn’t pay me to sit through an entire Burien council meeting,” Upthegrove joked via text.

It elicited a “Lolz” from Jacobs.

She appears to have a similar relationship with McDermott.

In an exchange between Jacobs and McDermott on August 27, 2018, she thanks the councilmember for supporting a budget request for two new OLEO staffers.

“You’re the best,” she says.

McDermott playfully responds, “You say that when I was asking followups you couldn’t answer. ;)”

After more chatting, she calls him her “favorite person ever.”

Neither Upthegrove nor McDermott responded to requests for comment. Jacobs ignored my requests for comment, as well.

Jacobs’ job is on the line

The King County Council is currently deliberating on whether or not they will extend Jacobs’ appointment as the OLEO director.

But before they make the decision, they’ll have to complete an investigation into an anonymous complaint alleging similarly unprofessional conduct, including explaining white men are better suited for some county jobs, purposefully excluding transgender women from parties, calling a Vlack-owned business “ghetto,” and referring to the law enforcement officers she oversees as “[expletive] heads.”

Councilwoman Claudia Balducci tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that she wants this resolved as soon as possible. And while she can’t comment on the active investigation, she did say Herrera’s complaint can factor into their decisions on the current complaint and the reappointment.

If Herrera had his way, Jacobs won’t see a reappointment.

“And for me, the only way it gets resolved is she needs to go,” Herrera said. “Then you’ll have somebody that goes into that position and will actually do what the job specifies them to do.”

We could have answers on Jacobs’ future in as little as two weeks.

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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Rantz: County director commented on dead man’s genitalia — complaint swept under rug?