King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht has decided to discipline King County Detective Janette Luitgaarden for allegedly assaulting an Uber driver during a ride to her home while off-duty on Nov. 4, 2017.
According to a Aug. 9 press release from the Sheriff’s Office, an internal investigation concluded that Detective Luitgaarden “punched, kicked, scratched, and slapped her Uber driver. (A Washington State Trooper who responded to the incident noted that Luitgaarden seemed ‘significantly intoxicated.’)” After both the investigation and hearing—where the detective was able to present her side of the incident—Sheriff Johanknecht has decided that Luitgaarden will serve a four-day, 40-hour suspension without pay for “conduct unbecoming.”
“Our employees should never behave in a way that diminishes public trust and respect for law enforcement” said Sheriff Johanknecht in the press release. “While I recognize that law enforcement is a stressful profession and our employees will, from time to time, struggle with personal difficulties, I expect our law enforcement and professional staff members to act lawfully and be good role models.”
The Uber driver did not wish to press charges against the detective, and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office also declined to file charges in the case. According to a January 2018 memo from King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Benjamin Santos, the office declined to charge Detective Luitgaarden because it did not have sufficient evidence. “In order to prove assault in the 4th degree, the State must show beyond a reasonable doubt an intentional striking of another person that is harmful or offensive. Here, it is essentially undisputed that the victim was in fact struck by the suspect,” the memo read. “However, given the circumstances, it would be difficult to prove that the striking was intentional and ultimately unlawful given the suspect’s level of intoxication and potential claims of mistaken belief and/or self defense.”