The King County Ombudsman's Office said Interim Sheriff Steve Strachan violated county ethics in his election campaign for county sheriff, according to a report released on Wednesday.
The results of an investigation into Strachan's conduct — prompted by a complaint filed in July from Seattle Lawyer Alex Wilford — found that he had improperly used his King County Sheriff's Office uniform for campaign purposes in photos on Facebook and his campaign website and in an appearance at the King County Republican Party's picnic in July.
"The report stated that while both violations were minor and of minimal or no cost to the County, there were violations of the Ethics Code because of the code’s strict prohibition on the use of County resources in election campaigns," stated the report, which was signed by King County Ombudsman Amy Calderwood.
The King County Sheriff's Office, in an Oct. 1 letter, said it disagreed that Strachan broke the rules by appearing at the Republican Party event. KCSO Legal Advisor Patty Shelledy said the sheriff's understanding "was and is" that he may attend an event in uniform if he is attending as the Sheriff and not as a candidate.
"He attended the event as part of the normal and regular conduct for the Sheriff," Shelledy wrote. "Nonetheless, the Sheriff is sensitive to the Ombudsman’s concerns and will be more attentive to these specific issues in future appearances as the Sheriff."
The report also dismissed complaints that Strachan violated the Ethics Code when his campaign posted other photos and a video that were publicly available and produced in the normal and regular conduct of his office, and on another occasion when he sent an email about ethics compliance to Sheriff’s Office employees.
The Ombudsman's Office resolves citizen complaints concerning King County government agencies through direct assistance. It also investigates alleged violations of the Employee Code of Ethics and Lobbyist Disclosure Code, and reports of improper governmental action and retaliation filed under the Whistleblower Protection Code.
However, it doesn't have the power to levy penalties or fines, said Calderwood.
Instead, the findings will be forwarded to the King County Prosecutor, who can in turn file a complaint with the State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), which monitors campaign spending and enforces state election laws. The PDC is also investigating a second complaint from Wilford alledging campaign violations by Strachan's campaign.