Return Fire

A former sheriff's deputy says the brass lied to justify her firing for being bipolar.

Ten months after the King County Sheriff's Office fired veteran deputy Angela Holland, a good cop with numerous commendations for patrol work, new information has emerged that raises questions about truthfulness among the sheriff's department brass. Specifically, the high-ranking officer who fired Holland did not accurately portray two mental evaluations used to justify the termination.

In 2004, Holland revealed to the department that she was being treated for bipolar disorder, a common mental illness, and needed time off because of a change in medication, which can be problematic. Instead, she was placed on administrative leave and had to surrender her gun and badge. By all accounts, Holland's medical condition had not been an issue on the job (see "Good Cop, Sad Cop," March 30, 2005).

Holland's lawyer has provided two letters to Seattle Weekly about fitness-for-duty evaluations used to justify Holland's firing. In one, psychologist Maria Root recommended to the department that Holland be granted a six-month leave, then be re-evaluated. Four days later, KCSO Chief Denise Turner wrote to Holland in a memo that Root "was unable to complete her evaluation" and that Holland was to be evaluated by Kathleen Decker, a Bellevue psychiatrist.

After seeing Holland, Decker wrote to KCSO that the deputy was "not fit for duty at this time" (emphasis added). In addition, Decker stated in the letter, Holland had shown "significant improvement" and "may be suited to an unarmed position" in the department, adding that the matter "deserves serious consideration."

A month later, though, last Nov. 3, Turner terminated Holland, who had been a deputy for six and a half years, including five years on patrol in Precinct 4, one of King County's toughest urban areas. She was terminated for nondisciplinary medical reasons, according to the department.

In the termination letter, which Holland's lawyer also provided to Seattle Weekly, Turner stated that Root and Decker "have concluded that you are not fit for duty"—a gross oversimplification of the two letters, if not entirely misleading.

Turner declined to answer questions for this article, citing pending litigation. Holland sued KCSO and King County in August in King County Superior Court, alleging that the department was negligent in firing her, violated state antidiscrimination laws, violated civil service protections, and violated state public disclosure laws. Sheriff Sue Rahr also declined to comment.

"They did it on the basis of no medical evidence," says Jeff Herman, Holland's attorney. Pointing to the doctors' evaluations, he says, "All their documents say this was a nondisciplinary medical termination, so since the firing was only for medical reasons, they needed a medical basis, and they don't have that." Says Holland: "Not one of these doctors says I am completely unfit. People need to know that if some of the top brass in the department are lying, then what do they expect the officers to be like? These people are supposed to lead and be an example."

Holland has been unable to find full-time work since being fired. Once her legal case is resolved, she says, she will file an internal affairs complaint with KCSO regarding Turner's handling of the case. "She lied and she needs to be held accountable," says Holland.

Holland says she is flabbergasted that she was terminated while KCSO was in the process of going soft on Detective Dan Ring, the subject of an investigation last month by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer who worked in the department's intelligence unit. Ring allegedly leaked investigative information to suspected criminals, had sex with prostitutes, revealed the identity of undercover Seattle police officers, flouted KCSO policies, and, according to the P-I, did very little conventional police work for more than a decade. An internal investigation of Ring was so botched that the sheriff and King County prosecutors decided they couldn't bring an effective criminal case against him. In addition, the King County Police Officers Guild, which represents deputies and detectives, made it clear to KCSO that it would aggressively fight any action against Ring.

Instead of firing Ring, Rahr worked a deal where he agreed to retire this fall and would receive his full pension of $3,500 a month.

Holland, on the other hand, says she received very little help from the guild in fighting what she calls an unfair process and wonders what was behind the union's inaction. "Look at how hard they fight for male officers, and then, they throw me to the curb to defend myself," she says, citing the union's aggressive stance on past cases such as Ring's and that of Deputy John Vanderwalker, who kicked a woman during the World Trade Organization protests in 1999.

Union President Steve Eggert did not respond to a request for comment.

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