King County's Sheriff's Office is failing to investigate some misconduct complaints against its officers, according to a report released Tuesday by the county's police oversight office.
The report from the Office for Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) found that during late 2017, there was “an increase in cases that should have been investigated, but were reclassified for either no action or non-disciplinary action.”
The sheriff's office couldn't offer any reason for why they failed to investigate the cases, according to OLEO’s report.
“OLEO conversations with the Internal Investigations Unit Captain yielded no reasonable explanation for these classifications, which were contrary to Sheriff’s Office policy,” the report said.
OLEO was created in 2006 to provide oversight of the Sheriff’s Office, including ensuring that misconduct investigations are “thorough, objective, and timely.” Of the 130 misconduct cases from 2017 reviewed by OLEO, the oversight office found that 65 investigations needed additional work. That sends those investigations back to the Sheriff’s office for follow up work.
If the Sheriff’s Office refuses or fails to remedy an investigation to OLEO’s standards, the oversight office will refuse to certify the report. Of those 130 misconduct cases, OLEO refused to certify 13 of them. That means half of the sheriff’s misconduct investigations were done incompletely when they were submitted to OLEO’s review. The sheriff was able to fix the problems in most of those cases, but in 10 percent of them, they were never able to get a passing grade on their homework assignment.
OLEO said there was a number of reasons for not certifying those 13 cases, including insufficient efforts to find witnesses, to uses of force, failure to follow up on other possible allegations, failure to give written notice to the sheriff’s own employees, missing the deadline for imposing sanctions, and having a conflict of interest.
This isn't the first time OLEO has found sizable inconsistencies with the Sheriff Department's handling of misconduct complaints against its cops. A report released last month showed that officers in the department were systemically underreporting their uses of force, failing to follow the reporting protocol in 30 percent of the cases. That same report showed that the county incorrectly classified nearly half of all complaints as "unfounded," meaning an investigation found the event never occurred, when there was ample evidence that the event did take place.
OLEO was given the right to directly investigate cops in 2015 through a King County voter initiative, but that ability has been blocked by police unions through their collective bargaining agreements, according to Tuesday's OLEO report.