Finally Punishing a Bad Cop
The County Officer with the Highest Record for Misconduct Complaints Gets Demoted
Sergeant Patrick "K.C." Saulet has been the subject of more complaints than any other cop in the King County Sheriff's Office—including a complaint filed by me this month—and finally, his superiors are demoting him.
The breaking point came on December 9, 2012, when a man named Louis Landry, following errant directions from a GPS system, mistakenly drove his family car into an off-limits area of the Convention Place transit station with his pregnant wife and 18-month-old daughter. According to Landry, a seven-year veteran who served in Iraq, they were stopped by a hostile Sergeant Saulet, who allegedly said, "I could send you to jail. I could send your wife to jail. I could even take away your daughter."
That was too much for King County sheriff John Urquhart, who was elected last November, and he decided to demote Saulet to deputy. "This is the first time I have taken away someone's stripes," said the sheriff when reached by phone. The move is "very, very uncommon."
However, the demotion is about more than this so-called courtesy violation; Saulet has "at least 120" misconduct allegations, Sheriff Urquhart wrote in an August 7 disciplinary letter obtained by The Stranger via a records request. The next closest sergeant has only 23 misconduct allegations. And of Saulet's many complaints, 20 have been sustained. Yet the incidents persisted, despite misconduct investigations in 2001, 2003, and 2011 that resulted in corrective counseling. The decision to demote Saulet from the rank of sergeant to deputy—along with a $16,000 cut to his base salary—indicates that Sheriff Urquhart is willing to issue harsh discipline for cumulative misconduct, rather than judge each case as a stand-alone grievance.
For what it's worth, Saulet also threatened to arrest me last month when I took photos of officers on public property ["Hostile Policing," Aug 7]. My complaint against Saulet resulted in one of two current investigations against him that could result in future misconduct findings. However, the initial recommendation to demote Saulet for the Landry complaint was made in June, before my incident.
In the blistering eight-page demotion letter, Urquhart notes that Saulet "dealt with the Landrys in a manner that was discourteous and demeaning; that escalated or threatened to escalate a situation for no apparent reason." He warned that "any future conduct violations will be treated very seriously, and depending on the circumstances, could result in termination."
It's an encouraging sign for a sheriff's department that received a scathing audit last summer for ignoring misconduct complaints and downplaying discipline. On the flip side, this case may again prove that the powerful police union, called the King County Police Officers Guild, can overturn the demotion by appeal, as it did in 2008 with Saulet.
Urquhart predicts that the King County Police Officers Guild will fight the decision, but said, "I don't speak for the guild." A call to the guild went unreturned, but during an investigation into the December 9 complaint, guild president Steve Eggert backed up Saulet, saying, "Sometimes we need to take a strong stand, even harsh, with people and raise our voice to get compliance," according to Urquhart's letter.
For his part, Saulet denied the arrest threat allegation. But the sheriff's letter to Saulet states: "I found Mr. Landry's statement far more persuasive than your denial."
For now, Saulet has been removed from Metro transit duty and is assigned to patrol Northeast King County responding to 911 calls.
Although he's still on the street, it's encouraging that Urquhart seems to be taking the right approach to discipline: looking at an officer's complete record. To me, it seems unlikely that Saulet could have been fired for this singular incident. He didn't violate anyone's constitutional rights or inflict bodily harm. A demotion based on a bad track record is likely the most that can be expected. And if the demotion holds, then there may be grounds to fire Saulet if another complaint is sustained against him (which seems inevitable to me), and that should be sufficient to crowbar him off the force permanently.