by Carolyn Bick
This is the second in a series of articles examining the pushback and internal pressure former Office of Law Enforcement (OLEO) director Deborah Jacobs appears to have faced during her tenure at OLEO. This pushback appears to have mainly stemmed from within the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO), the very law enforcement entity OLEO is tasked with overseeing, as well as the King County Police Officer’s Guild (KCPOG), some of whose members belong to the KCSO. Multiple sources have alleged that certain members of the KCSO and the KCPOG mounted an internal campaign against Jacobs and said that the main goal of the campaign was Jacobs’ ouster. The King County Council decided not to renew Jacobs’ contract, after an independent investigation found that Jacobs had violated King County discrimination codes. Jacobs has since filed a tort claim against King County. You can read part one of this series here.
Author’s Note: Several sources requested anonymity over concerns of retaliation or professional repercussions. These sources are noted as such throughout the piece. Their real names have not been used.
The Night Tommy Died
Still blurry with sleep, Jacobs walked up to a crime scene cordoned off with shiny yellow police tape. It was June 14, 2017, and then-KCSO Deputy Cesar Molina had just shot 20-year-old Vietnamese American student Tommy Le twice in the back and once in the back of the hand. Le died of the wounds to his back shortly after. When Jacobs arrived on the scene, it was after midnight. By that time, Le was already dead.
Before Jacobs had even been notified of the shooting, KCSO had already set up the scene’s temporary command center. Among those present at the command center were then-Major Mitzi Johanknecht — she was the Precinct 4 commander in Burien at the time — and then-Captain Scott Somers. Former Sheriff John Urquhart arrived later at the scene but told the Emerald in a May 10, 2021, interview that he did not stay long.
Somers would later instruct the scene’s responding sergeant, then-Sgt. Ryan Abbott, to treat one of the witness deputies as an involved deputy. This meant that the witness deputy would not be compelled to give a statement the night of the shooting. The Emerald wrote about this decision and the red flags it raised in a later investigation into the events that night and into the way the KCSO handled its own internal investigation of the shooting.
“This was just a complete PR bungle,” Dan, one of the sources who spoke with the Emerald on condition of anonymity, said in an April 2, 2021, interview. “They knew that Tommy Le had a pen within seconds. And yet they withheld that information. … They did that on purpose. And away we go. [The KCSO] are running downhill with one mistake on top of another, and it just doesn’t pass the smell test.”
The KCSO’s first press release on the matter stated multiple times that Le had a knife or another sharp object. Urquhart clarified for the Emerald that this was strictly based on what witnesses had reported, but this is not entirely clear in the press release, which appears to state as fact at least once that Le had a knife or another sharp object.
Urquhart told the Emerald in his May 10 interview that what Dan said is not true. He told the Emerald that he did not know Le had a pen until about three days after the fact, which would have been on or around June 17, 2017. He said that the public information officer, Jason Houck, who wrote the press release was new to the job and that there was “huge pressure” to get information out as soon as possible. Urquhart said that “not everything is going to be correct, because it changes. … I understand how there can be mistakes, and clearly Jason didn’t have all the information.”
When the Emerald asked why the information that Le appeared to have had a pen, not a knife, was withheld until June 23, 2017, the day after Seattle Weekly broke the story about it, Urquhart said that he didn’t know why the information was withheld — “I really don’t know. Maybe I just didn’t think about it.” He also said that he never gave the regular public information officer, Sgt. Cindi West, orders to get that information out right away and that it didn’t really come up until Seattle Weekly’s June 22 article. West had been on vacation at the time of the shooting.
“At some point in time, Cindi came back from vacation, between the second [KCSO] press release, which was seven days later, and the first [KCSO] press release. My guess is that nobody had asked us. It didn’t come up. She didn’t know. She didn’t talk to the detectives,” Urquhart said. “[Public information officers] have to reach out to the detectives to find out what is going on with an incident. [The detectives] don’t tend to keep us in the loop because they don’t care. They’ve got a homicide, or shooting, or whatever it is — talking more generally, not just about [the Le case]. They have a caseload and all this other stuff.
“The [public information officer] — and, by inference, the sheriff — is over here,” Urquhart continued, gesturing in the air. “We call [the detectives on a case], they’ll get back to us. They are good about that. But they are not going to be proactively reaching out to us, typically. So, my guess is, that’s why it took so long. As soon as we found out — and that was from the Weekly, I think, that they were doing a story — we put out that second press release.”
With regards to why West decided to bury the information that Le appeared to have had a pen, not a knife, towards the end the new press release — there’s only one line about it, placed about four paragraphs before the end of the document, rather than anywhere in the beginning — Urquhart said he didn’t know. The press release is also titled, “Update to Officer Involved Shooting,” with no reference to what ended up being crucial facts in the case.
“I didn’t write it. My guess is that was just her style. I don’t know. I don’t think there is anything nefarious about it,” Urquhart said. “It may matter from a style standpoint, but from the standpoint of getting the information out, it doesn’t change anything, would be my view.”
Later in the conversation, however, Urquhart said that the KCSO shouldn’t have “buried the lead on that one,” referencing the information that Le appeared to have had a pen.
When the Emerald asked why none of the press releases under his tenure as sheriff mentioned that then-Deputy Cesar Molina shot Tommy Le in the back, Urquhart said that it was a “moot point,” once the autopsy results had been released.
“And we typically don’t, on any case, put out the results of the autopsy,” Uruqhart said. “That’s from a different County agency. They do their own press release, or the attorneys, or somebody will have it, and they will put that information out there. We just don’t do it. That’s not an update that we would be releasing, and we never do.”
But when the Emerald asked why Urquhart and the office didn’t feel it was important to proactively inform the community that Molina had shot Le in the back, Urquhart admitted that “you raise a good point.
“The information was already out there. It wasn’t like we were trying to hide it, or keep it secret, or anything like that. … I just can’t think of a situation where we have proactively released the results of an autopsy,” Urquhart said.
Dan, one of the Emerald’s anonymous sources, said in his April 2, 2021, interview that even though Jacobs arrived on scene after Le had been taken away, this was still better than previous instances of police shootings that he could recall. He said that this was likely because the KCSO wanted to keep Jacobs “in the policy box.” Despite the fact that going to the scene of a police-involved shooting was part of Jacobs’ duties as OLEO director, Dan said that the KCSO and the KCPOG “viewed her as a threat, so they resist her and throw up various obstacles for her at every turn, for these sorts of things.”
According to Dan, on at least one occasion he’s aware of, Jacobs ought to have been informed of a live scene after a police-involved shooting that took place in Enumclaw, he said, and “she wasn’t even notified.” He viewed this as just one example of the many ways the KCSO worked against Jacobs and OLEO in their role of providing law enforcement oversight in King County.
Urquhart told the Emerald in an email on May 18, 2021, that “[u]nder my watch, there was absolutely no effort to keep [Jacobs] from going to officer-involved incidents,” and that Dan was incorrect in his assessment. However, Urquhart continued, the KCSO “sometimes had a problem notifying [Jacobs] that something had occurred.
“OLEO going to a scene was new. Somebody had to call [Jacobs], usually in the middle of the night. Who would call? Me? Major Crimes? On-scene sergeant? We struggled for awhile and sometimes she fell through the cracks. Either she didn’t get notified or notified late,” Urquhart explained. “We finally got her notification on the Communications Center list. In other words, she got called with the rest of us.
“It is also possible someone ‘forgot’ to notify her before it was assigned to the Comm Center,” Urquhart continued. “Heads would roll if I found out. But unlikely I would [find out]. … If they knew policy (notify Deb) and didn’t, then … they should be wary of discipline!”
As she approached the scene in Burien on that fateful night in 2017, Jacobs noted that there wasn’t an officer in the cruiser on the side of the scene she was approaching. This may have gone against the KCSO’s own policies: According to chapter one of the KCSO’s General Orders Manual (GOM), “[m]ajor incidents in which anyone is seriously injured or killed by police activity shall be thoroughly investigated and professionally managed. The scene shall be treated as if it were an unresolved homicide.” In chapter four of the GOM, it says that “[d]eputies and follow-up investigators will determine who enters or leaves a secure scene,” which indicates that there should have been an officer present to ensure that no one — including Jacobs — entered that scene without authorization.
The Emerald asked Urquhart in his May 10 interview whether this went against best practices and the KCSO’s GOM. Urquhart explained that there weren’t enough officers there right away that night, so best practice is to secure the scene with scene tape until an officer can control the entry point.
Because Jacobs was there in an official capacity and there was no officer she could ask to let her into the scene, she ducked underneath the tape and asked the nearest officer to help her find the command center.
“This was on the list of things that KCSO noted I had done wrong that night. Another one was taking a distant photo of the police lights and tape at the scene and posting it on social media to alert the public that OLEO had attended a scene,” Jacobs told the Emerald in a March 15, 2021, interview. “In retrospect, that night — and the advocacy for Tommy Le that followed it — represents the beginning of the end for me at OLEO.
”Ducking under the yellow tape was raised [as a criticism], but they couldn’t criticize it too much, because they were supposed to have their scene properly controlled,” Jacobs said. “So they didn’t do anything much with that.”
Urquhart told the Emerald in his May 10 interview that he reprimanded Jacobs for ducking underneath the yellow tape. But it appears that this action still fell into the ever-growing list of perceived offenses various law enforcement officers within the KCSO and the KCPOG were tallying against Jacobs.
“Deborah did a couple of stupid things — and she’ll admit to that — early on. I don’t know if she was trying to be one of the guys or trying to just fit in,” Dan said in his April 2 interview. “She is not a guarded person, and she made herself vulnerable in a couple situations, and the Guild took it and ran with it. And I think that, whether legitimate or not, it gave the higher command folks the ability to feel like they were taking the higher ground with Deborah.”
It wasn’t always like this, though, Dan said. There was a brief “honeymoon” phase when Jacobs first came on. But that didn’t last.
“I would say Deb is a tick too far to the left to be the right person to pull the King County Sheriff’s Office into the 21st century,” Dan said. “But she is closer than anyone else. … And here’s the thing: she can have her mind changed. And that’s an opportunity the sheriff completely missed.”
Thus, it was after Le’s autopsy — one of the “situations” Dan referenced above — that “the Guild, the pendulum, really started to switch,” Dan said, and the honeymoon was over.
At Le’s autopsy on June 14, 2017, Jacobs asked KCSO Deputy Jesse Herrera about the size of a different dead person’s genitals. She told the Emerald that she was surprised at the size, because she had never seen anything like that before. She said that Herrera explained that the person had probably died sitting up and hadn’t been discovered for several days, thus allowing all the no-longer-circulating blood to pool in the lower extremities, which distended them. She also told the Emerald that KCSO Det. Chris Johnson, who was at the autopsy — and who was heavily involved in the KCSO’s internal investigation of the Tommy Le case and played a role in carrying out destructive testing on at least one piece evidence in that case — that the bodies looked “like movie props.”
Though Jacobs thought nothing of it, Herrera apparently did. He filed a complaint against her for alleged unprofessional behavior. Jacobs was called in to talk with Urquhart, and the complaint was sent to the King County Council for investigation. Jacobs told the Emerald in her March 15, 2021, interview that she hadn’t meant to offend Herrera and that she tried to talk with him to apologize in person. He wouldn’t have any of it, she said.
“After this incident was resolved from a personnel end of things, I had a class with him, and we happened to be in a moment where we were in the room alone together, and I stood up and I looked at him, and I said, ‘Hey, I am so sorry I offended you. I truly didn’t mean it,’” Jacobs said. “And he just stared me down and didn’t say anything.”
After the autopsy incident, “[t]he messaging started changing, especially with the current president,” Dan said, referring to then-KCPOG board member and future president, Mike Mansanarez, who also goes by “Manny.” Manny, he said, “felt like she was just out to screw cops.”
“And I know that was the messaging. I have heard it repeated over and over again. I don’t see any tangible reason why that has changed, other than just the general fear of change that I think exists in this misconstrued culture [of the KCSO],” Dan continued.
Mansanarez told the Emerald in a May 14, 2021, interview that this was not true. He said he did not speak much with Jacobs, while serving as, in his tongue-in-cheek words, “a lowly [KCPOG] board member.” Mansanarez said that once he became Guild president in 2020, he would touch base with Jacobs about once per month.
“It wasn’t adversarial, her and my relationship,” Mansanarez said but added that Jacobs did “have problems with the previous president” Steve Eggert.
Urquhart confirmed that there were “some” within the KCSO who didn’t like the way Jacobs was trying to handle things. He also confirmed that “the Guild, particularly, didn’t like her, and didn’t like what she was doing.
“Among command staff [at the KCSO] … most of them didn’t really care much,” Urquhart said of attitudes at the time. “I think the Guild, for certain … didn’t like how she was going about [oversight] and didn’t agree with some of the things she was trying to do. They saw it as a power grab that would not benefit their members directly.”
Urquhart said in an email to the Emerald on May 18, 2021, that he didn’t know Mansanarez as well as he did Eggert “when it came to Deb.
“Steve [Eggert] was zealous in protecting the contract. So I know Manny less well, but I never found him to be unreasonable. I can’t say what his personal feelings are, but I trust him to do the right thing,” Urquhart said.
With regards to Dan’s statement that Mansanarez felt that Jacobs was “out to screw the cops,” Urquhart said, “I know for sure that [Mansanarez] wants to make sure that things that should he (sic) negotiated are negotiated. He also has no patience for end runs around the Guild or contract. Or attempts to do so, at least in his opinion. Maybe that is where that notion comes from.”
Urquhart also added that he knows “Deb thinks the Guild and especially Manny are preventing ‘police reform.’ I do not agree with that assessment.”
The apparent tension between Jacobs and the Guild seems to have chafed against Jacobs’ authority and attempts to push back against existing policies and procedures within the KCPOG and KCSO. The KCSO may have taken note of the Guild’s apparent attitude toward Jacobs. As the Seattle Times reported on April 23 of this year, Sheriff Johanknecht floated a deal in June 2020: The KCSO would ensure Jacobs’s ouster if the Guild would simply accept and not bargain the sheriff’s proposed program for body-worn cameras. The program has long been a public priority for Johanknecht.
Mansanarez said in his May 14, 2021, interview with the Emerald that he believes the KCSO’s offer was an attempt to make the KCPOG look like the bad guys — to get them to agree to an unbargained body camera program in exchange for Jacobs’ ouster, and, in doing so, make it appear as though the KCPOG was behind the ouster rather than an internal investigation that had already been conducted. The internal investigation — that had not yet been made public — found that Jacobs had violated County discrimination codes. Mansanarez said that, at the time the KCSO floated the offer, he did not know about the investigation into Jacobs’ alleged conduct.
When the Emerald asked Mansanarez why the KCSO would have done this, Mansanarez replied, “Well, just because — one never knows.
“Between the union and the sheriff’s office, there’s always problems. And you see there’s problems now, because the members have asked for [Johanknecht] to resign, and she’s definitely not happy about that,” Mansanarez said.
When the Emerald asked again what was going on at the time or if there was anything that would specifically compel Sheriff Johanknecht to try to pin this on the Guild, Mansanarez said that he didn’t know.
“That’s typical politics, and I try not to get involved, because I don’t believe in blindsiding someone,” Mansanarez said.
Mansanarez said that “we are still in negotiations” for a 90-day body camera pilot program that stands poised to be “pushed across the finish line.” He also said that the Guild has “never been against” the body camera program.
“A lot of my deputies want them. They really want them because of some of the frivolous complaints that come in,” Mansanarez said.
“Three Against One”
Even before her interaction with Deputy Jesse Herrera at the autopsy, Jacobs, former King County Office of Labor Relations (KCOLR) senior labor negotiator David Topaz, and the Emerald’s anonymous sources, Dan, Mark, and Grant, said that Jacobs was subjected to what amounted to professional gaslighting. Jacobs said that it felt as though every move she made was scrutinized as if under a microscope, a feeling these other sources confirmed from their perspectives at the time. The Emerald has also obtained documents showing that Jacobs and OLEO were subject to a bizarre secret audit; that Jacobs was accused of “leaking” information about the fact that Tommy Le allegedly had a pen, and certainly not a knife, to Seattle Weekly; and that someone found it necessary to complain that Jacobs jaywalked (“true,” said Jacobs) and did not wear a life vest while kayaking (“not true,” Jacobs said). These different incidents appear to show a mounting internal campaign against Jacobs within the KCSO and the KCPOG.
Though these incidents were not cited in Jacobs’ termination in September 2020 — it was alleged that she engaged in discrimination and an investigation found that she made discriminatory comments that were inconsistent with policy, an issue the Emerald will detail later in this series — they still helped to further the internal desire to stonewall her and make her job more difficult, according to Dan, Mark, Grant, and Topaz.
Much of the Guild’s alleged initial treatment of Jacobs appears to have stemmed, at least in part, from Jacobs attempting to bargain with the KCPOG for the oversight rights voters had already afforded OLEO in 2015 via ballot measure. Jacobs said that she had to work with Bob Railton, KCOLR’s deputy director and labor negotiator, who Jacobs said constantly made her feel as though she was a troublemaker and a nuisance and who routinely talked down to her in a sexist and demeaning manner.
Jacobs is not a trained labor negotiator, but she said in an email to the Emerald on Nov. 11, 2020, that “over more than 90 percent of my four+ years in the position, we were in collective bargaining for a contract that was supposed to be effective January 1, 2017.”
This collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was not finalized and signed until April 2020. Its language has made it retroactive from Jan. 1, 2017, but it will expire in December of this year. It was necessary for OLEO to bargain for the rights voters had already afforded the oversight entity, because state law requires bargaining for anything considered “mandatory,” including wages, hours, and working conditions. OLEO’s oversight duties fall into this category.
Because so much of her job revolved around trying to get this new contract with these expanded OLEO powers off the ground, Jacobs asked Railton in a June 15, 2017, email if she could have some outside assistance in bargaining, much in the same way the KCSO brought the representatives it needed to the table.
In his response to Jacobs that same day, Railton said that “[f]ortunately, I have the bargaining background and experience you want and need. And, as the chief spokesperson, I’m well positioned to contemplate offers and respond in the best interests of the County.”
Railton rejected Jacobs’ request for him to allow Seattle University Labor Law Professor Elizabeth Ford to assist her in bargaining but said that he would “love to have John [Resha]” — a man whom Jacobs characterized as “very talented,” and who worked for King County as its Chief Policy Officer — “join us at the table, he’d be a valuable asset on a number of levels.”
“However, I’ll need to vet this with my bosses, and I imagine John will need to do the same, which he can explain to you,” Railton said.
Jacobs replied that Resha was not available for some of the bargaining process and asked to have Anne Levinson at her side for the bargaining process. Levinson is a former judge and deputy mayor and served in Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability for two mayoral terms. She is intimately familiar with collective bargaining and labor laws.
Railton said no.
“With respect to Anne [Levinson] (or anyone else you [Jacobs] may have in mind), I don’t need or want her (their) support to bargain either at or away from the table,” Railton’s email read, before telling Jacobs that if she was “looking for support, please find a way that works best for you that does not include inviting him or her to the bargaining.”
Soon after Railton agreed to allow Resha to help Jacobs at the bargaining table, Resha left his position, Jacobs said. Because Railton “was absolutely insistent that neither of the extremely well-qualified [women] I requested be allowed,” Jacobs found herself with the County’s new chief policy officer, Jeff Muhm, “a very good dude who absolutely did his best, but did not have the background needed to help.”
In her Nov. 11 email to the Emerald, Jacobs said that the four key players in the bargaining room for the duration of her tenure were the KCPOG — representing 700–800 commissioned personnel — the KCSO, the KCOLR, and OLEO. But because the KCOLR bargained for both the KCSO and OLEO, Jacobs said, “it was a three-against-one dynamic.”
“The Office of Labor Relations bargainer’s main concern was getting a bargain and not going to arbitration. That did not align with OLEO’s interest of having the voters’ will brought to fruition with the implementation of independent investigations conducted by OLEO,” Jacobs wrote in her email. “There was constant pressure on me to compromise, and some of it was manipulative and, to my mind, unethical.”
Arbitration is the process of dispute resolution using a neutral third party to resolve the matter by making a binding decision. It’s most commonly used in collective bargaining agreements between an employer and an employee, as an alternative to litigation.
Topaz said that Jacobs’ recollection of the dynamic at the bargaining table tracks with what he remembers. Topaz worked as a labor negotiator with the KCOLR from 2014–2020 and was briefly assigned to help negotiate the CBA. Topaz said that from his point of view, for the period of time he worked to help bargain the contract, OLEO was little more than “a political thing that the [King] County Council did that they never really gave the support and authority needed to be successful.
“They created something, gave it limited resources and limited authority, and then expected it to produce something that I am assuming would have given them cover for people to complain about,” Topaz said.
“I don’t think [the Council] really backed [Jacobs] up very well to get done what she needed to,” Topaz continued. “Honestly, I think they have more or less set up anybody who would be in that role [of OLEO director] for failure.”
In an email to the Emerald on May 18, 2021, Daniel DeMay, the Council’s communications manager said that “Council has been consistent in its support of OLEO throughout the history of the office.”
He continued, asking that the Emerald “[p]lease consider the following,” and laid out a list of 12 different ordinances, labor policies, and motions throughout the years. However, he did not address in-office issues, which the Emerald explicitly asked about in its original emailed question to the full Council. The Emerald specifically asked: “Two OLEO directors” — Jacobs and the OLEO director before her, Charles Gaither — “have been the subject of serious workplace problems and have both talked about professional problems and uphill battles in the position. What are your thoughts on this?”
Topaz said that with OLEO in the room as the fourth player, bargaining was effectively set up as the interests of the County versus the interests of the KCPOG. He said that this meant that the Guild “fought very hard against” the powers that the voters gave OLEO, which created “a very strained relationship.”
Jacobs also shared with the Emerald a Feb. 5, 2019, email she sent to Railton and Otto Klein, an outside, private labor lawyer with Summit Law Group, whom KCOLR had hired to assist with the bargaining process. In the email, Jacobs said that there had “been several times when I agreed to proposed language on the condition/understanding of the preservation of language in other sections.
“Then, a few drafts down the line, the section that we had agreed to preserve in order to accept a change in another section is removed or changed. This is how we’ve dwindled down to no meaningful investigatory power,” Jacobs said in the email, referring to how much voter-approved oversight power OLEO had lost in bargaining, due to unapproved changes, up to that point.
Chase Gallagher, the deputy director of communications in the King County Executive’s Office, responded to the Emerald’s emailed questions to Railton in a short email on May 18, 2021: “Because this is ongoing litigation we don’t have any comment at this time.”
Gallagher was referring to the tort claim Jacobs has filed against the County.
Jacobs said that at the same time she was battling a frustrating bargaining dynamic, she was also faced with increasing hostility from the KCSO and the KCPOG. As noted earlier in this article, OLEO underwent a secret audit, initiated by KCSO Capt. Marcus Williams in 2017, shortly after Molina shot and killed Tommy Le.
In the audit submitted to Urquhart, Williams alleged that OLEO employees had violated the terms of certain records access agreements. He noted that on June 17, 2017 — three days after Le had been killed — Det. Sgt. Tim Gillette alerted him to “possible intrusions” into one of Gillette’s assigned cases, which regarded the “alleged misconduct of an employee who was alleged to have committed at least two violations of criminal law.”
“During my discussion with Sgt. Gillette, Detective Sergeant Jason Escobar notified me of numerous OLEO intrusions into another criminal matter he was investigating,” Williams said in the audit report.
He then detailed each of the supposed “intrusions” in the audit, before going on to say that, when it came to Garrity matters — the right for officers and other public employees to remain silent and to not be coerced into making self-incriminating statements — it was the KCSO that maintained “the balance between the administrative investigation and preserving the employees’ rights.
“To have an unaccountable third party [OLEO] monitoring a criminal investigation and potentially infecting that investigation with premature or unauthorized release of evidence gathered during an administrative investigation would not only poison the reputation of the Sheriff’s Office but that of the Internal Investigations Unit as well,” Williams said in the audit.
Williams continued: “In conclusion, we recognize the past actions of the OLEO as outlined in the OLEO’s zealous request to seek prosecution in the investigation of” a particular 2016 case. “The OLEO action in this matter not only appears to exceed the scope of the 2009 ordinance” — Ordinance 16511, established in 2009, which governed OLEO’s actions and authority, until a new CBA could be agreed upon — “it may have violated the subject officer’s Garrity rights should the King County Prosecutor’s Office have decided to prosecute the matter.”
He also attached King County’s Labor Policy, dated April 18, 2017, underlining in purple highlighter the section that read, “the oversight office shall not participate in criminal investigations.” He also attached several dozen pages of internal investigations document access logs, where he underlined in the same purple highlighter the names of various OLEO employees who had apparently accessed those files.
However, the situation was apparently quite different than Williams alleged, which he would have known had he spoken with OLEO, Jacobs said in a Nov. 16, 2020, email to the Emerald.
“While it is quite appropriate for a law enforcement agency to protect confidential information, prior to conducting this audit Williams never raised concerns with OLEO, nor did he establish systems to ensure files were properly indicated for access. In fact, those confidential files were not marked or distinguished in any way for OLEO staff to recognize them without opening them,” Jacobs said in her email. “After learning of this audit, we requested that they lock the files that are under criminal investigation.
“So,” she continued in the email, “Williams conducted a secret audit that showed nothing, never spoke to us about it, and then shared it with the Guild. … To his credit, Sheriff Urquhart did not pursue Williams’ faulty attack on OLEO. I only learned that a written audit existed in the aftermath when former Chief of Staff Chris Barringer mentioned it.”
Jacobs said in her March 16, 2021, interview with the Emerald, that it was actually a comment from Bob Railton that alerted her to the audit, and that Urquhart forwarded the audit to her. Urquhart told the Emerald that he didn’t allow the audit to go any further, because it was clear to him that Williams simply wanted to get Jacobs in trouble.
“I told my guys, ‘Don’t do this anymore.’ I told Deborah, ‘Tell your people — don’t do this anymore. It’s against the rules,’” Urquhart said, referring to OLEO accessing those particular case files. “[Williams] didn’t like Deborah Jacobs. There was a tremendous amount of pushback between some detectives [and Jacobs]. … It was a bit of a gotcha on her, I think. By the same token, it was legitimate to call it out. What would have been better is if somebody had come to me [and I could have talked to Jacobs about it].”
Jacobs also told the Emerald that she recalls learning about some other accusations, including that she jaywalks and that she had been caught kayaking without a lifejacket, from other people at the KCSO. Jacobs admits to jaywalking on one or more occasions. As it turns out, the lifejacket incident was a case of mistaken identity, she said. There was a different OLEO staff member who lived near Lake Washington, and who had been out kayaking without a life vest on the day in question.
“The King County Sheriff’s marine unit was out working, and they approached her, because she wasn’t wearing a life jacket. On the boat was someone who knew her and who knew she worked at OLEO, who was there on a ridealong with the marine unit,” Jacobs said. “So, that person said, ‘Oh, that woman … works at OLEO.’ Within 24 hours, there were rumors all over that it was me and that I refused to wear a life jacket.”
Jacobs said that these accusations and the audit marked a ramp-up in internal hostility against her, which she started to notice after she sent an email to more than 100 King County legislative branch employees in which she centered Le’s name. The June 22, 2017, email, which Jacobs shared with the Emerald on Nov. 11, 2020, was titled, “Say His Name: Tommy Le” and read as follows:
“Dear KC Friends,
I know that many of you are coping with the tragic shooting of Charleena Lyles, as well as recent jury verdicts and other related issues that highlight discord within our society. I share your emotions – the full range.
In addition to that heartbreaking shooting of Charleena, I have been distraught about the shooting of a 20-year old Vietnamese man named Tommy Le by a King County Sheriff’s deputy last Tuesday night. I attended the scene of the incident, as well as part of the autopsy of Mr. Le.
Another tragedy for all involved.
Unfortunately, there has been limited press coverage about the incident. However, today The Weekly published the following article which contains the most current information:
As we come together in this (sic) challenging times of violence and discord, and as you say the names of lives lost in violent circumstances, please remember Tommy Le.
Jacobs sent the Emerald an email on March 25, 2021, in which she included a memo she had written shortly after she sent that email. The memo, dated June 26, 2017, details a June 23, 2017, conversation with Urquhart. In this conversation, Jacobs wrote in the memo that Urquhart had told her that KCSO Deputy Jesse Herrera wanted to file a complaint against her for Jacobs’ comment about the genitalia of a deceased person at the King County morgue.
Urquhart told the Emerald in his May 10, 2021, interview that his first thought was, “Jesus Christ, Deborah, what the hell are you thinking?” followed by, “Come on, Herrera, you’re a big boy. You’ve been around a long time. You’ve seen a lot of penises. You’ve heard comments about a lot of penises. You’ve probably made them yourself.”
Urquhart said he had no choice but to send the matter to the King County Council to investigate but that he “thought it was a tempest in a teapot.
“I thought this whole thing was — what a crock,” Urquhart said, shaking his head. “[Herrera] really didn’t like her and didn’t like what she was doing with OLEO, and this was the ramification of it. This was not because he was upset — I don’t think — with the comment. It was because he was upset with Deborah. I think that’s what this all boils down to. … [He] took advantage of the situation — made a ‘federal’ case out of it.”
Jacobs also said in the June 26, 2017, memo that Urquhart told her that people were, in Jacobs’ words, “offended by the email I sent out on June 22 about the death of Tommy Le and that I was losing credibility and being seen as an activist, not an auditor. He asserted that emails like the one I sent were not the role or job of OLEO. He said that the email was taking the position that the shoot wasn’t ‘clean,’ and that how could OLEO claim to be an ‘independent agency’ if it takes sides.”
“(I did not clarify that in the case of OLEO ‘independent’ means free from political influence.)” Jacobs added in the memo.
Lastly, she wrote, Urquhart “informed me that people were ‘suspicious’ that I had prompted The Weekly’s June 22 article about the Tommy Le shooting.”
“I informed the Sheriff that I had not contacted The Weekly. He said that it didn’t matter what he thinks, but others will distrust me. Although I didn’t inform the Sheriff of this, I had actually asked the reporter what had prompted his decision to look into the story, and he told me it was the headline that KCSO put on its press release that caught his interest,” Jacobs wrote, referring to the first press release the KCSO put out about Tommy Le’s death.
Jacobs closed the memo with, “Throughout the conversation, the Sheriff invoked others’ anger or disapproval of my actions. This has come up in the past when he brought concerns to my attention. It appears he seeks to use peer pressure to make his case.”
Urquhart admitted that the allegation that Jacobs had leaked the information that Le had a pen, not a knife, was “supposition, on my part, at the time.
“I have no idea if she did or not. Obviously, we were suspicious at the time,” Urquhart said.
Urquhart stands by what he said to Jacobs about her email to King County personnel. He said that Jacobs has never been able to put aside her work with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — until 2012, Jacobs had worked with the ACLU in various roles for a span of about 20 years — and that “when you wear [activism] on your sleeve, you’re going to lose credibility” in a job that requires a person to project neutrality and put aside their feelings on the subject matter. Urquhart said that he took issue with that email because it did not help Jacobs to project an air of neutrality and ultimately contributed to the complaints against her.
“People pushed back … at anything she wanted to do. They pushed back — hard. And Herrera was one of them, the Guild another. They weren’t going to cut her any slack whatsoever,” Urquhart said. “That’s why I objected to that email, in particular.”
“I think it would be true to say that from the time I sent that email letting King County community members know that the shooting had taken place that there was an active hostility toward me and [there was a] narrative that I don’t follow the rules,” Jacobs told the Emerald in a March 23, 2021, interview.
The Emerald reached out to the KCSO, but they did not return a request for comment by deadline.
This concludes part two of this series of articles. Look for part three coming soon.
Featured image: A memorial for Tommy Le. Courtesy of the Le family.