Internal recordings shed light on fired deputy’s actions

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @LByronK5

KING5.com

Posted on November 22, 2011 at 10:45 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 22 at 11:31 PM

Whether patrolling Skyway or Vashon Island, where King County Deputy Kevin Savage went a trail of complaints followed.

A KING 5 Investigation found that in just two years, Savage has been the target of 22 internal investigations and has had at least 30 findings of misconduct -- everything from “conduct unbecoming” to “insubordination” to inappropriate “use of authority.”

On November 10, Savage was fired.

Sheriff Sue Rahr wouldn’t say what finally tipped the scales.

“I really can’t comment on his case until we are through the appeals process,” Rahr said.
She acknowledged that the public wants answers in this case.  “I absolutely know that,” she said, “and I know this is a great point of frustration for people in the public.”

Rahr said any comments she makes could be used by Savage to fight his termination.
   
According to Asst. Professor Matt Hickman, who teaches criminal justice at Seattle University,
there is an impact on public trust when a deputy stays on the job despite a pattern of bad behavior.

“For public trust, the faster the better,” Hickman said. “The quicker you can do something the better it is from the public’s point of view because they want to see accountable police.”

In 2009, citizens and deputies alike complained that Savage was behaving inappropriately.  After Savage entered a Skyway apartment illegally, swore at young children and forcefully arrested their mother without probable cause, the sheriff told Savage that his behavior sent a message that “police officer are unprofessional and bullies who threaten people into cooperating.”  She said that the internal investigation revealed a “pattern of inappropriate use of your authority” but she ordered only a three-day suspension.

Asked whether three days off without pay is serious discipline, the sheriff said, “Yes it is.”  But citizens and even some deputies told KING 5 News the three-day suspension amounted to “a slap on the wrist.”

“And I understand why it looks like that to people,” Rahr said, “but in the context of all types of misconduct and what is consistent with past practice, three days is in that range.”

In 2010, Savage started patrolling Vashon Island. He often played pool in a bar, sometimes for hours, while on duty and in uniform. And he did it even after being told to stop.

In January of this year, Savage was hauled into the Internal Investigations Unit. The KING 5 Investigators obtained the two-hour recorded interview through public disclosure. 

Here is how Savage explained his behavior:

“My intent was not recreational. My intent was to gather information get to know people and, you know, build bridges,” Savage told a sergeant from the Internal Investigations Unit.  
   
“These are the people you serve. You're actually hanging out with them instead of sitting at your store front, sitting at your substation on your butt,” Savage said.

During the interview, Savage admitted that while in uniform he often smokes, sometimes swore at citizens and didn’t always follow the letter of the law.

But he denied ever crossing the line, saying that his tactics were intelligence tools and his goal was community policing.
   
“I’m just trying to do my job,” Savage said, “I actually do good work.”

In firing Savage, the Sheriff’s Office cited two incidents from last summer. Police investigators concluded the deputy abused his authority, engaged in conduct unbecoming and lied about what happened.

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