09/03/2018: "Warnings On Parker Ignored…Why?"
By Alex MacLeod
There is a crucial question left in the wake of the Orcas high school teacher convicted of sexual misconduct with a student, a case that was thrown out after it was discovered that the lead detective in the case was in a sexual relationship with the victim before and during the trial.
The question is this: was there any opportunity to know that the detective, Stephen Parker, had clues in his past that might have caused the county to reconsidered his hire or, failing that, to supervise him more closely?
That was what County Councilman Bill Watson asked after Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord and Sheriff Ron Krebs briefed the council in January, 2017, about how the case had imploded.
In response, Gaylord said his office had “looked left and right and asked what did we miss?…What went wrong?… I’d say we were vigilant in this case…I do not know what I could have done differently.”
Krebs added that he couldn’t think of anything the sheriff’s office could have done differently, either, adding: “Nothing, nobody anywhere had anything bad to say about him (Parker).”
What Gaylord and Krebs knew, but didn’t tell the council, was that they had received a warning that there were possible problems in Parker’s background. The information was provided between the time Parker was hired but before he reported for duty.
The warning came when SJC Deputy Jeff Asher told Krebs that Montana lawyer Martin Sinclair, a personal friend who worked in the same jurisdiction as Parker, had told him Parker was known to be “dishonest…had integrity issues and was threatening to others.”
Krebs took Asher’s tip to be significant enough that he sent an email to Gaylord on Dec. 20, 2014, asking him to call Montana to check it out. Gaylord responded that he was going on vacation and handed it off to Emma Scanlan, his chief criminal deputy at the time. For reasons that haven’t been explained, the call to verify the information was never made.
When he learned that Krebs and Gaylord told the council there were no questions raised about Parker during the hiring process, Asher wrote Gaylord and the council saying that was not true, stating: “Sheriff Krebs knew it when he said it.” He reminded Gaylord of the Montana tip and told him he’d reminded Krebs about it again prior to the hearing. Asher asked Gaylord to have the veracity of Krebs’ statement investigated by the Washington State Patrol.
In two follow-up letters to Asher, with copies to Krebs and the council, Gaylord denied there had been any written notice of a potential problem (“in the files,” he carefully qualified), dismissed Asher’s request for an investigation, hinted that he, Asher, was a troubled employee and directed him back to his chain-of-command.
Having come across mention of Asher’s tip in a court filing, I asked the county for the records, which I promptly received. Along with the recording of the Jan. 24, 2017 council meeting, they form the basis of this report and raise a number of significant questions about both Krebs’ and Gaylord’s accounts to the council.
Gaylord declined to answer those questions, saying that doing so, despite having spoken about Parker previously, would be “inappropriate” due to the teacher’s pending damage claim against the county.
Krebs hasn’t responded to the one question put to him: Why didn’t you tell the council about Asher’s warning, about your follow-up with Gaylord and about Gaylord’s failure to check it out?
As voters and citizens, we should demand answers to these questions of our elected officials. As candidates for reelection in November, both Gaylord and Krebs need to provide those answers now.
(Alex MacLeod is a longtime Shaw resident. He worked nearly 30 years at the Seattle Times, the last 17 as managing editor, before he retired in 2003.)