Seattle-area deputies lied about bus driver's profanity use during fight

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 23, 2015 8:45 PM

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE (Reuters) - (Note language in paragraph 5)

Two sheriff's deputies patrolling Seattle's transit system lied about a bus driver's use of profanity during a heated argument last November captured by a camera embedded in the driver's eyeglasses, a police investigation has found.

The incident comes as the public view of police across the nation is "laced with distrust," Transit Police Major Dave Jutilla wrote in a May 26 memo, obtained through a public-records request, that summarizes the incident.

The investigation grew out of a complaint filed by King County Sheriff's Office Sergeant Lou Caballero after an early-morning argument on Nov. 14 between he and graveyard-shift driver Kelvin Kirkpatrick in downtown Seattle, internal Sheriff's Office documents show.

In the incident, Kirkpatrick, a 20-year transit veteran, criticized Caballero and his deputies for failing to remove non-paying "sleepers" from his bus, the latest in a series of tense interactions between the men.

"You got three fucking deputies out here that don't do nothing," Caballero, who is Cuban American, quoted Kirkpatrick as yelling at him.

Another deputy, Amy Shoblom, who is white, also said Kirkpatrick spoked those exact words in a witness statement written after the fight.

However, footage recorded by Kirkpatrick in a camera built into his eyeglasses and later shared with investigators shows that the driver did not use any profanity.

A third deputy told investigators he did not hear anyone use swear words during the fight.

"I'm not yelling at you, sergeant. ... I'm expressing how frustrated I am at the fact that I've got three deputies that don't do anything when I need help," Kirkpatrick can be heard saying.

Sheriff John Urquhart could decide as soon as next week whether to act on the recommendations of other top sheriff's officials to fire the pair for dishonesty and retaliation, a spokesman said on Thursday.

Kirkpatrick has been cleared of wrongdoing, transit department spokesman Jeff Switzer said.

Caballero, who was not aware he was being videotaped, could be fired for dishonesty, inducing dishonesty, and retaliation, while Shoblom faces expulsion over dishonesty. They have both questioned the video's authenticity.

Julie Kays, an attorney representing Caballero and Shoblom, said: "Lou and Amy are honorable and dedicated officers who have tirelessly served the people of King County."

Without the video images captured by Kirkpatrick, the incident "would have resulted in progressive discipline against him as a transit employee," Major Jutilla wrote in his memo.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sandra Maler)