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Sheriff's Detectives Sue King County Over Alleged Sexual Harassment

A legal complaint filed by three female detectives accuses two sergeants in the Special Assault Unit of years of abuse.

Three veteran King County Sheriff's detectives have filed a lawsuit against the county, alleging years of sexual harassment from two supervisors in the department's Special Assault Unit.

A 42-page legal complaint (see attached PDF) filed last Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court details several incidents of alleged abuse on the part of Sergeants Anthony Provenzo and Paul Mahlum.

The three female detectives, identified in a legal complaint as Belinda Ferguson, Janette Luitgaarden and Marylisa Priebe-Olsen, all worked at some point with Provenzo and Mahlum in the Special Assault Unit, which is tasked with investigating sex crimes against children and adults in King County.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and allege that the county knew about the ongoing harassment but did not act to stop it. Last August, the women filed claims seeking a total of $9 million in damages; when the county declined to settle, the plaintiffs opted to file suit.

Among the allegations, statements from other detectives accuse Provenzo and Mahlum of making repeated comments about the size of female detectives' body parts and that Provenzo "regularly talks about the size of his penis" in front of co-workers: "On more than one occasion, Provenzo took a plastic penis and hung it out of the bottom of his pants."

The complaint also alleges the sergeants made light of sex abuse victims, instructing the female detectives to "say it slower, so I can close my eyes" when they were discussing the facts of a case. Provenzo regularly told one of the plaintiffs not to investigate rapes on the Mukleshoot Indian Reservation because such crimes take place there "all the time."

“It is the height of irony—or better stated, hypocrisy—that the very detective unit charged with rooting out and pursuing sexual offenders would be home to rampant sexual harassment,” the plaintiffs' attorney Julie A. Kays wrote in the legal complaint.

Newly elected Sheriff John Urquhart told The Seattle Times last week that he has transferred one of the sergeants to another department and will expand an earlier investigation into the allegations. "If heads need to roll, then they will roll," he told the newspaper.

Kate King January 23, 2013 at 12:49 AM
Funny that Urquhart was golfing buddies with Provenzo and never knew this was happening....
Jeff Hoerth January 23, 2013 at 02:41 AM
Go back and read the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's investigative report called Conduct Unbecoming published in 2005 and this won't seem like a surprise. If heads roll, they will probably roll with fat pensions that taxpayers will pay to bad cops while management and the police guild continue the cover-up. www.seattlepi.com/default/article/Sheriff-forms-panel-to-address-misconduct-1192270.php http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/2006/09/08/2003249499.pdf
Julian Petersen January 23, 2013 at 04:22 AM
Funny that Urquhart doesn't golf.
dexterjibs January 23, 2013 at 07:21 AM
Cheezus, what a waste of time. They get nothing as far as i am concerned. Dark humor amoung law enforcement and military is the name of the game and needed to vent stress. If these females can't cut it without narcing on their buddies, maybe they need to find a new line of work. You all get ZERO of tax payer dollars.
Kate King January 23, 2013 at 06:01 PM
He sure talks about it a lot about it with Provenzo.
Michael Bougie March 18, 2013 at 10:05 AM
Chris Knudsen is a corrupted Detective.

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