Washington State Patrol sexual misconduct case tests state oversight as police reforms near passage
Thanks for joining us on morning edition. I'm angela king. Does washington state need tougher policies to prevent police officers who commit misconduct from staying in law enforcement. Let's central element to a bill. That's moving through. The legislature and the question is well illustrated by the case of a former washington state patrol. Sergeant named sean car car has admitted to committing sexual misconduct while on duty. But he's fighting to keep a state law enforcement certification and a hearing in his case is scheduled for this week. Joining me now to talk more about this is olympia correspondent austin jenkins and seattle times investigative reporter. Mike reicher mike and austin teamed up to report on this story and again they join us today both for your time. good morning. Good to be here. Good to have you both austin. Let's begin with the allegations against sean car. This is the first time they've been publicly released. So what are we talking about here. So car is accused of engaging in official misconduct and failure of duty. That's the technical term in this for carrying on a years long sexual relationship with a colleague. Now this colleague was a civilian employee of the patrol in. Here's what's important. Most of the sexual encounters took place. Well car was on duty in uniform and driving. His patrol car in three instances. The woman said that car tried to or succeeded in coercing her to engage in sexual activity and he vehemently denies that there was a criminal investigation. Detectives did recommend that he charged ultimately the prosecutor's office decided not to file charges. The woman was not willing to testify against him. Car did admit to engaging as well in sexting including sending sexually explicit images and videos to the woman again while he was on duty so mike what should we know about shown car he has some pretty high up connections as i understand it. He does shawn. Car is the son-in-law of the longtime chief of the patrol john batiste and cars married to Batiste daughter who herself is a sergeant with the patrol so the case has really rocked the highest echelons of the state patrol. The chief had to be walled off from an internal investigation. Pretty rare move the agency designated an assistant chief to serve as a liaison to the batiste family while while this was all going on. Okay well let's hear what the state patrol spokesperson chris. Loftus had to say about situation. This is an embarrassing shameful event and our history and series of events we understand that and for us to maintain the public trust. We have to act And exemplary fashion at all times and in this case a member of washington troll did not act an exemplary a fashion and mike Just to be clear. Has there been any evidence to suggest that car received favorable treatment because batiste is his father in law. I know there is in and austin. And i look through all the investigative records really closely for that and we did not see any austin cars admitted to violating the state patrols policies and engaging in on-duty sex. He resigned his commission with the state patrol last july. But now he's getting ready to fight the state's effort to discern. Fly him as a law enforcement officers so he has a hearing scheduled for this week. I guess the question is what kind of case is he making here. Yes so his career with the staples over but so long as he has his law enforcement certification he could potentially get hired elsewhere is attorney says that his client is a dedicated public servant that he's quote a prompt carrying and committed law enforcement officer and that he wants the opportunity to continue to be able to serve the community as a police officer. But mike you know this is an issue that we hear about time and time again both nationally and locally about officers being let go from one department but still being able to move on to another and we've seen examples of that here in our state correct. Yes we have Last year i did a story for the seattle times that looked at officers who have hopped from department department after a really serious allegations of misconduct. We found one example in officer named nick hogan who had a series of use of force incidents against people of color He was actually found guilty of violating. Somebody's civil rights for a spraying pepper spray on them while they were strapped down to a gurney and yet after all that he was still able to keep his certification. He agreed not to be an officer as part of a settlement. But he's still in good standing with the state. Okay all getting back to the situation with car. It seems in some people may see. It seems kind of hard to believe that a police officer could engage in this kind of misconduct on the job and still make the case that they should keep their certification. Why does car have a shot. In this instance the law is super narrow here in washington More sovan and other states. It only has four categories misconduct that allow for decertification. It's dishonesty use or possession of illegal drugs if officer loses the right to own a gun which is typically for domestic violence or criminal behavior conducted under what's called the color of authority and that last category could include sex while on duty but the state has to prove that the conduct was criminal Whether or not the officer was charged with a crime. And that's a pretty high bar to meet. We went back and looked at the history and the state has decertified three officers for on duty sex since two thousand three and at least one other had his case overturned on appeal. Well austin the state legislature is considering legislation to expand the authority of the criminal justice training commission. It's the first major change in what about two decades. It wouldn't affect cars case but could it have an impact on future cases like this one. Yes and you know. This is in the context of the push for more police. Accountability generally especially in the wake of high profile. Killings of people. Manolis in tacoma. George floyd in minneapolis but the changes the legislatures contemplating would go beyond just the use of deadly force. The bill pending before the legislature would allow the state commission distribute officer of their certification for a pattern of conduct that fails to meet the ethical and professional standards required of a police officer or that jeopardizes public trust or confidence in the law enforcement profession. So that's a much broader definition than currently exists under the narrow loss. Okay so potentially more authority for the criminal justice training commission a mike. How much of a game changer would this be. If the law is changed well my reporting for the seattle times last year. Founded decertification for officers. Here is really really rare there about a eleven thousand officers in washington in any in any given year about a hundred of them or fired and of those more than forty officers might be flagged by their own chiefs for decertification yet. Just thirteen of them on average certified each year and one thing that That really stuck out as we found that no officer has ever been decertified for using excessive force here in washington. Wait a second. None have been certified for excessive use of force that's right. The law is written so narrowly and the state criminal justice. Training commission is so understaffed that they they tend not to take on these cases In the changes that are coming up in the legislature. Excessive force is called out specifically as one of the reasons for decertification but like sex on duty they as the law stands. Now they would have to prove that it's criminal conduct and that is a very hard to meet your high bar to me so so it's the law does change mike. What changes are we looking at. What will the commission be able to do compared to what they are allowed to do right now. Sure this state would Have more leeway to decertify officers also. The commission itself would have more more civilians on the commission on the board. That here's these cases so you know advocates have really called for more civilian oversight of police and if the state law passes this will be a key part of state oversight all right. Well a big. Thanks to mike. And austin you can read much more of this story in today. Seattle times also online at ku o. w. dot org again gentlemen. Thank you for your time this morning. You're welcome you're welcome.