OLYMPIA, Wash. — State Rep. Robert Sutherland is under investigation by the state, accused of yelling and swearing at the head security officer for the House of Representatives.
Sutherland does not deny the incident happened. He said it was the best way to defend himself during a confrontation Saturday morning.
“I was pretty ticked off,” said Sutherland, R-Granite Falls.
During a speech at a rally on the state Capitol campus Saturday, Sutherland told a story about the encounter he had earlier in the day with the head of security for the state House, the Sergeant of Arms. Sutherland said the security officer would not let the representative into the Capitol building.
“Excuse my French, but I look at him and I said, ‘**** you. You're not gonna shut us down,” Sutherland told a crowd of several hundred people protesting against state COVID-19 regulations.
Sutherland said he was not allowed into the state Capitol building because security officers told him he had not taken the required COVID test.
Currently, House members need to provide negative test results every Monday, Wednesday and Friday if they want access to the House. But state House rules only require COVID tests for members to gain access to their offices or the floor of the House chamber.
Senate members are required to test every day they hope to attend floor sessions.
When Sutherland insisted he should be allowed into the building, he said the officer started to act in a “very intimidating” way.
“He came at me,” Sutherland said via a Zoom interview Wednesday. “Like he was going to physically do something to me or throw me down and arrest me whatever.”
That’s when Sutherland said he swore at the officer as a way to defend himself.
He said he apologizes to anyone at the rally who heard his account of the exchange.
As for his interactions with the officer?
”I'm sorry I allowed myself to be drug down to his level by responding the way I did. I am sorry about that,” Sutherland said. “I will apologize to the guy if there's some remorse in him as well for his initiating that contact and that kind of demeanor.”
The House security staff cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, said Bernard Dean, chief clerk of the House of Representatives.
Dean said Sutherland had not taken the required COVID tests and was “removed from our facilities.”
“We take this situation seriously in terms of him yelling obscenities at a staff member. That would be a serious breach of the respectful workplace policy and code of conduct,” said Dean.
House Minority Leader, state Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said Monday the language used “reflects badly on all of us.”
Wilcox issued a written statement Wednesday that reads, “The Legislature has a Code of Conduct and an expectation of a professional and respectful environment. My caucus feels strongly about the responsibility to treat staff with respect. It doesn’t look like Robert lived up to this responsibility.”
Sutherland said he is worried the incident could result in him losing his position on House committees.
The representative said he is filing a complaint against the security officer.
Sutherland was one of several lawmakers who sued the state over a policy requiring House members to be vaccinated to gain access to their on-campus offices and the House chamber.
That policy was scaled back March 1.