The press for the King County Sheriff's Office hasn't been great lately. The agency recently found itself the subject of two negative reports - one from the King County Auditor and one from the King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight - calling into question its handling of use or force reviews as well as internal complaints and complaints from citizens.
Now three female detectives with the King County Sheriff's Sexual Assault Unit have come after the county, "alleging they were victims of rampant acts of sexual harassment and verbal abuse under three sergeants over many years," according to the Seattle Times - which reports the detectives have "filed up to $9 million in claims against the county."
The detectives who filed the claims - Marylisa Prebe-Olson, Janette Luitgaarden, and Belinda Ferguson - contend that Chief Deputy Dave Jutilla (while a sergeant), along with current sergeants Tony Provenzo and Paul Mahlum were responsible for creating a "toxic, degrading and humiliating" working environment in which they were the constant target of sexually crude comments and demeaning treatment - including being unfairly berated in front of peers and even spit on. As the Times notes, the claims comes as a possible prelude to a full-on lawsuit, with the county now having 60 days from the time the claims were filed (Aug. 21) to reach a settlement with the detectives before things head down that road.
According to the Times:
The claims, which each seek between $1.5 million and $3 million, allege that Jutilla, while sergeant, and two current sergeants, Tony Provenzo and Paul Mahlum, were responsible for allowing or tolerating sexual and gender harassment in the Sexual Assault Unit at the Regional Justice Center in Kent.
Fergusson was the target of harassment for 8 ½ years while working for Provenzo and Mahlum, according to her claim.
She alleges Provenzo yelled, screamed and spit on her; discussed the size of her breasts; directed other detectives to walk by to look at her breasts; and singled her out for criticism in front of peers.
In their claims, Prebe-Olson and Luitgaarden make similarly disturbing allegations.
As to why Prebe-Olson, Luitgaarden, and Ferguson chose to come forward now, after enduring the treatment for so many years, Julie Kays, the Tacoma-based attorney representing the detectives, tells the Times the three recently reached a breaking point, and decided to take action to protect other women within the Sheriff's office.
Kays also tells the Times that the timing of the claims is unrelated to King County Sheriff Steve Strachan's election bid.