07/30/2018: "Why Did Gaylord Not Charge Parker?"
By Alex MacLeod
One of the best things about democracy is we get an opportunity on a regular basis to review the performance of our elected leaders and decide if they merit continued employment. To do so, it is important to have something more than campaign mailers and yard signs to make our decisions.
As a longtime county resident with a background in public-service journalism and the belief that fact-based information is essential to the democratic process, I’ve spent a fair amount of time looking beneath the surface of things in the county, and writing about it from time to time.
I have wondered for some time about the often-shaky performance of the county’s long-time prosecuting attorney, Randy Gaylord, now seeking his seventh four-year term, but this past year-plus several things have raised particular questions that seem worth a closer look.
At the top of that list is his failure to file a perjury charge against Stephen Parker, the sheriff’s detective in the infamous Gerald Grellet-Tinner sex case on Orcas. You’ll recall that the county charged Grellet-Tinner, a teacher at Orcas High School, with having had sexual contact with a student under age 21, a crime in this state. Before Grellett-Tinner could be prosecuted, Parker began his own illicit sexual relationship with that same student. (Their first sexual encounter, according to later investigation, was in the sheriff’s department’s Orcas annex.)
With Parker sitting by his side throughout the trial, Gaylord won a conviction on what is a pretty cut-and-dried charge. But before Grellet-Tinner could be sentenced, Parker’s own relationship with the woman was discovered.
In the course of the investigation of Parker’s activities, the detective wrote and signed a document denying any improper relationship with the woman. He also denied all in a formal interview with a Skagit County detective, brought in to insure independence. Documents in the case make it clear that his statement was made “under threat of perjury,” underscoring the ethics of his position as a deputy sheriff.
Further investigation demonstrated, incontrovertibly, that Parker had lied under oath. His behavior, as well as that of the young woman, led to the vacation of Grellet-Tinner’s conviction and the dismissal of all charges, with no option to bring them again.
Early on in the Parker investigation, the Skagit County detective’s first recommendation to Gaylord was that Parker “should be investigated criminally for bribery, intimidation of a witness, abuse of power and if it were up to me and to be transparent I’d notify the FBI since these actions were done under color of office.” The degree of her concern was clear.
Instead, Gaylord asked Skagit County to undertake the investigation and determine what charges, if any should be brought against Parker. In the end, Skagit county said it looked at two possible criminal charges: a possible sex crime and witness tampering. It concluded that neither could be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt and declined to file charges.
On Jan. 24, 2017, a few weeks after receiving Skagit County’s letter, Gaylord and Sheriff Ron Krebs appeared before the County Council to explain what had happened. Near the end of their presentation, with his voice expressing great frustration, Councilman Rick Hughes asked Gaylord: “Is there any way we can go after perjury” against Parker?
Gaylord’s reply didn’t address Hugh’s question. Instead, he asserted he had given full control over charging decisions to Skagit County and it had declined them. He made no mention of perjury and Hughes didn’t ask again.
Press coverage of the Council session prompted someone to contact Skagit County and ask again why no perjury charge had been recommended or filed. Russell Brown, the Skagit prosecutor’s deputy who had handled the case, told Gaylord about it in an email Feb. 8, 2017, concluding that perjury “was not something we considered.”
A couple months later, Brown’s boss, Richard Weyrich, told The Seattle Times, the same thing, and added that Gaylord should at least have reviewed that charge and believes it should have been filed. (In the course of my reporting, I wrote to Weyrich three times asking if he disputed The Times’ account. He never replied, though he informed Gaylord about my questions.)
I have asked Gaylord several times why, in light of the fact that Skagit’s investigation did not consider perjury; that Weyrich said he thought such a charge should have been filed; that Parker’s behavior and lies (as well as the damage to the credibility of the woman in the case) led to it dismissal and now to Grellet-Tinner’s damages claim, he had not charged Parker with perjury.
He replied by continuing to assert that all charging decisions had been handed to Skagit County and he would respect its conclusions, adding that it could be a difficult charge to prove, despite clear evidence that Parker had lied under threat of perjury while wearing the uniform of a county deputy sheriff. Neither of Gaylord’s claims holds much water.
Gaylord’s challenger in the coming election, Nicholas Power of Friday Harbor, has speculated that Gaylord let Parker off the hook because a perjury trial would have led to disclosures that would be embarrassing to Gaylord and Krebs. While possibly true, Power’s speculation undoubtedly is colored by his representation of Grellet-Tinner in an unsuccessful attempt to have Parker at least charged with a misdemeanor for his lies (which Gaylord aggressively opposed), as well as in Grellet-Tinner’s damage claim against the county, which could lead to a large financial settlement.
And what of Parker? He continued to collect his $84,000 salary through 2016, voluntarily resigning after being on paid administrative leave for six months. He now lives in Florida. He is no longer a law-enforcement officer.
(Alex MacLeod lives on Shaw Island. He retired in 2003 after 17 years as managing editor of The Seattle Times. He plans to write more in the weeks ahead about Gaylord’s performance based on reporting on other issues.)