John Urquhart, the Democratic candidate for King County Sheriff (and a longtime spokesman for the sheriff's department), announced last week that he plans to appoint former Spokane sheriff Anne Kirkpatrick as his deputy if he's elected in November. (Urquhart is running against current sheriff Steve Strachan, a Republican who was appointed to replace Sue Rahr earlier this year).
In his announcement that he planned to appoint Kirkpatrick earlier this month, Urquhart praised Kirkpatrick for her work at Spokane Police Department, where she was brought in to reform the department after officer Karl F. Thompson beat an unarmed man named Otto Zehm to death in a convenience store in 2006.
Although Thompson was later convicted of two federal felonies, Kirkpatrick's success at reforming the police department is still an open question.
And her tenure was hardly free of controversy. In 2011, a jury issued a $722,000 verdict against the city, including $250,000 in damages against Kirkpatrick herself, for the way the department disciplined a detective who was acquitted in 2008 of trying to kill his wife during their divorce. The city council issued an official rebuke against more than 50 of her officers after they saluted Thompson following his felony conviction. And the police guild gave her a vote of no confidence in 2010.
So our one question for Urquhart was obvious: Were you aware of concerns about Kirkpatrick's tenure in Spokane, and if so, what did she tell you to assuage those concerns?
Here's Urquhart's response, edited slightly for length:
First of all, Anne inherited the Otto Zehm case, since it occurred (March 2006) before she arrived in Spokane (September 2006). By that time it was a full-blown FBI investigation… an open investigation. Then it took three years for the US Attorney to indict Karl [Thompson] and another year to get him to trial. By that time there was virtual open hostility between the community and the police department so the case was moved to Yakima.
A lawsuit was also filed against the city, so at that time only the Mayor was authorized to speak on the matter. That’s why Anne deferred to the Mayor [Mary Verner, whose defeat earlier this year was blamed, in part, on her handling of the Zehm case].
I think the animosity between Anne and the Guild basically came down to a matter of values…..hers and theirs. In fact, one of their top leaders was arrested and charged with obstruction after a run-in with the Fish and Wildlife Officer. [In 2011, a Spokane detective was charged with obstruction of justice after a confrontation with a Fish and Wildlife Officer who accused his sons of hunting illegally.] Not to mention that some 50 or so Guild members saluted the officer who was responsible for Otto Zehm’s death (in front of his family) at the Federal Courthouse after his conviction. That’s an outrage and a terrible way to rebuild trust in the police department.
As for the no confidence vote, the Guild included abstentions which distorted the vote as votes against Anne. She still had great support for her three other unions. With the exception of the Spokane Guild, Anne has always had great relations with other her other labor unions over the years, and I expect that to continue as she and I work with the King County Police Officers Guild.
In addition to her extensive experience, one of the main reasons I hired Anne is for her “values”. She and I share those, and I believe the citizens of King County share those values as well. I intend to make sure the Sheriff's Office has those same values as we move forward.