King County Sheriff John Urquhart on Wednesday filed a defamation lawsuit against Brian Barnes, the ex-deputy who alleged that the sheriff groped him three years ago in the parking lot of a Renton restaurant.
The Seattle Times this week published a report detailing Barnes' allegation. Barnes, now a police officer in Massachusetts, reached a $160,000 settlement after the sheriff sought to fire him for dishonesty, insubordination and other reasons. Instead of getting fired, the settlement allowed Barnes to resign and collect pay on the condition that he drop a slew of complaints against superiors and not pursue any other claims against King County. Now, Barnes is telling the Seattle Times that was "hush money."
Renton police are investigating Urquhart for “unwanted touching with sexual motivation" in connection with Barnes' claim.
Urquhart has vigorously denied the allegation. The lawsuit claims he passed a polygraph test on October 23 on "actual or attempted sexual advances towards Mr. Barnes."
The lawsuit says Barnes acted with malice by making the allegations, referring to a legal standard for defamation cases. Tilden says Barnes' history of making false complaints against elected officials before an election substantiates that he acted with malice.
This is the second sexual misconduct allegation to dog Urquhart in as many years. Last year, another ex-deputy accused the sheriff of rape. King County prosecutors declined to file charges on that claim, but the King County Ombudsman found that Urquhart had a conflict of interest when he asked instructed his office not to document or investigate the allegation. Both accusers have also filed complaints with the ombudsman claiming Urquhart improperly shared their personal information with media in an attempt to discredit them.
Since the news of the second deputy's allegation was made public, several supporters of Urquhart have rescinded their endorsements of him in his re-election campaign.
Urquhart's lawsuit against Barnes claims the ex-deputy defamed him by telling the Times that his $160,000 settlement was structured in a way to prevent him from speaking publicly about his allegation. The lawsuit also cites Facebook posts published under a pseudonym including the last name of Barnes' prior superior when he worked in Webster, Massachusetts 15 years ago. Urquhart, through attorney Jeffrey Tilden, claims it was actually Barnes who wrote posts under a false name accusing Urquhart of sexual assault.
"These statements are flatly false, they are defamatory, and they are actionable," the complaint, written by attorney Jeffrey Tilden, says.
In a statement, Barnes told The Stranger, "I haven’t been served any paperwork for a lawsuit. I haven’t defamed anyone. I reported a crime to the king county sheriff’s office and they told me that the sheriff would not be involved in the investigation."
"Sheriff Urquhart brings this action to vindicate his rights, to restore his reputation as one of the most highly-regarded King County Sheriffs to have ever served the County, and to establish that Deputy Barnes is liable for the substantial and irreparable harm that he has caused to Sheriff Urquhart’s reputation on the eve of this November 2017 election," Tilden writes.
Sydney Brownstone contributed reporting.