A year and a half after King County Sheriff's Office detectives George Alvarez and Jim Keller were tossed in jail by their own department for allegedly assaulting and threatening a confidential informant in 2003, the pair has sued the department, former Sheriff and current U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, current Sheriff Sue Rahr, and other department personnel. The suit was filed in King County Superior Court on May 20.
Alvarez and Keller faced criminal charges over the allegations and were tried last year. In addition, after being arrested, the two officers were locked up in the King County Jail for 72 hours—a highly unusual outcome for officers facing possible misconduct charges. Allegations against the two detectives and a Des Moines police officer surfaced after another Des Moines police officer reported the incident involving the informant. The informant was allegedly assaulted, pepper-sprayed, the taken to a location near the Green River and threatened with being tossed into the water.
Last year, a jury found Keller not guilty of fourth-degree assault but was unable to return a verdict against Alvarez and Keller on other charges. The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office declined to retry them. Last summer, then-Sheriff Reichert suspended the two for 20 days and demoted them to patrol.
In their suit, the two deputies allege that KCSO, Reichert, Rahr, and other officials had them falsely arrested in October 2003 and that they were maliciously prosecuted, among other things. Reba Weiss, the attorney for Alvarez and Keller, says that the whole affair reeks of politics. "It certainly appears to have been politically motivated," she says. "There is no other explanation for why they were treated that way and prosecuted to the nth degree."
Some in the department, too, see the sheriff's handling of the incident as driven by the fact that Reichert was mulling a run for Congress and that Rahr, his chief of operations at the time, was the odds-on favorite to be appointed sheriff if Reichert won. A Republican, he won the Eastside's 8th District U.S. House seat last November.
How Alvarez and Keller were handled by KCSO when they were arrested has created a rift within the department among cops who think they were treated with maximum prejudice and those who think they got what they deserved, according to sources in the sheriff's department. The suit alleges that the pair's precinct commander, then-Maj. Scott Somers, who now is a KCSO chief, ordered that Keller be housed in the jail's mental-health unit.
The incident with the informant occurred soon after Alvarez and Keller were involved in the shooting death of a gang member. A hearing cleared them of wrongdoing in that episode. After the shooting, the detectives reportedly received death threats and were using the informant to obtain information about the source of the threats.
The political repercussions could ripple beyond the lawsuit. Rahr is running for sheriff this year. Her opponent, KCSO Sgt. Jim Fuda, says the arrest and jailing of the two has shaken regular beat cops in the department. "The same thing could happen to any one of them at any time" over an allegation of misconduct, says Fuda, a 32-year department veteran. Like some others in the department, he feels that the evidence against Alvarez and Keller was too weak to justify imprisonment.
Reichert, en route to Iraq, was unavilable for comment. His D.C. office declined to comment, referring questions to KCSO. Rahr was unavailable for comment.