WA State House reprimands Rep Robert Sutherland for misconduct

OLYMPIA, Wash., March 25, 2022 – Today, the State of Washington House of Representatives issued a formal reprimand against Republican Rep. Robert Sutherland (R-Granite Falls) for inappropriate behavior towards the Sergeant-at-Arms. Also, the House found that Rep. Sutherland acted in a retaliatory manner when he filed a counter complaint and spoke to the press disparagingly about the Sergeant-at-Arms. According to the formal letter of reprimand, the Legislative Ethics Board will continue with its investigation.

“These actions violate the House of Representatives’ Policy related to Retaliation and a Respectful Workplace as well as the Legislative Code of Conduct,” the letter stated. “Additionally, because your behavior potentially violates RCW 42.52.070, Special Privileges, we will be forwarding this matter to the Legislative Ethics Board for further consideration.”

During a speech at a rally on the state Capitol campus in Olympia on March 5, 2022, Rep. Sutherland shared an incident he had the day before with the Sergeant-at-Arms. During the encounter, according to Rep Robert Sutherland, he told the law enforcement official, “F*** You.”

Below is the video of Rep Sutherland’s speech at the March 5th rally.  A recount of the event begins at the 50-second mark. At the one-minute mark, Rep. Robert Sutherland says, “Excuse my French, but I look at him and I said, ‘F*** you. You’re not gonna shut us down.”

Background of the Investigation

Sutherland’s remarks towards the Sergeant-at-Arms came after he was not allowed into the state Capitol building because he had not taken the required COVID test. House members needed to provide negative test results every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday if they wanted access to the House. House rules also require a negative COVID test result for members to gain access to their offices or the floor of the House chamber.

In a King 5 interview, Sutherland said the officer acted in a “very intimidating” way and that he thought the officer “was going to physically do something” to him or “throw” him down and arrest him.

According to the letter of reprimand, the official investigation determined that on Friday, March 4th, Sutherland was escorted out of the John L. O’Brien building, his office location, because he “failed to adhere to the House testing protocols by failing to test for COVID-19.”

On Saturday, March 5, Sutherland attempted multiple times to enter the John L. O’Brien building in violation of House testing protocols. The Sergeant-at-Arms arrived at approximately 11:07 a.m. to assist with the situation. As the Sergeant-at-Arms explained why he could not let Rep. Robert Sutherland (R-Granite Falls) into both the John L. O’Brien and the Legislative buildings, Sutherland yelled, “F*** You Sergeant!”

According to the document, Sutherland continued to swear and act inappropriately towards the Sergeant-at- Arms for several minutes.

Contradictions in Sutherland’s Testimony

Sutherland provided several contradictory statements during the official investigation which, according to the letter state, are “concerning and contributes to a lack of credibility on your [Sutherland’s] part.”

Below is a summary of alleged contradictions to Sutherland’s testimony during the investigation:

  • First Written Statement
    • Sergeant at Arms was threatening through intimidation of violence and that Sutherland was drawn into a shouting match.
  • Investigative Interview on March 8
    • Sutherland stated he could not remember what was said and that the Sergeant at Arms initiated the foul language. But when confronted with the statements during the March 5 rally, Sutherland admitted what he said the Sergeant-of-Arms.
    • Security video contradicts Sutherlands claim that the Sergeant at Arms rushed up to his vehicle yelling at him in an agitated state. The surveillance video and eyewitnesses also contradict Sutherland’s claim that the Sergeant at Arms engaged in conversation in a manner causing him “fear of harm” as alleged by Sutherland.
  • Second Written Statement on March 10
    • Sutherland’s revised written statement includes the foul language he used towards the Sergeant at Arms but leaves out the part he alleged the Sergeant at Arms acted in a threatening manner. It adds information about the Sergeant at Arms rushing toward Sutherland from his car.

“Your multiple contradictory versions (statements on the rally podium, two written statements, investigative interview, media statement, and media interview) of the sequence of the interaction appear to be continually refined to reflect your actions in a way to absolve you of your conduct,” wrote Bernard Dean, Chief Clerk for the House of Representatives in the letter of reprimand.

He continued, “You stated during the investigative interview that you were immediately remorseful for your behavior, yet you bragged about your behavior approximately an hour after the incident while speaking at a rally on campus (as captured on Twitter). Calling out the staff position with whom you had recently interacted in an inciteful way on the podium, claiming that you had almost been arrested, potentially could have brought harm to the individual or to other security on site that day.”

Sutherland’s counterclaim unfounded

Sutherland filed a counterclaim against the Sergeant at Arms following his investigative interview, which the House determined to be retaliatory in nature – a violation of House policy.

“…you have attempted to portray the Sergeant at Arms as the instigator in this incident, you have also filed a complaint against the Sergeant at Arms. However, the investigation, which includes video footage and witness statements, does not corroborate your allegations, and your complaint is deemed unfounded.”

Consequences and Next Steps

The letter of reprimand was very pointed towards the actions of Rep. Sutherland and accused the two-term elected member of the legislature of lacking character.

“Your response to date reflects a lack of accountability as you continue to blame others for your actions… Additionally, your caucus leadership has previously provided you verbal counseling on similar inappropriate behavior with staff.”

Sutherland has been directed to complete a refresher course of respectful workplace expectations and must attend House approved constructive conflict coaching by no later than June 30, 2022. Failure to do so would result in restrictions to access staff.

Because Sutherland’s actions may have violated RCW 42.52.070, Special Privileges, the case has been forwarded to the Legislative Ethics Board for further consideration.

Sutherland has 30 days to appeal the reprimand with a signed written appeal to the Executive Rules Committee.

It is unknown if any of the testimony provided by Sutherland was sworn or under penalty of perjury nor if the Sergeant-at-Arms is considering any civil legal action against Representative Sutherland.

Republican 39th Legislative District Endorses Robert Sutherland

On the evening of March 21, members of the republican 39th LD endorsed Rep. Sutherland for his re-election bid to the state House of Representatives. During the meeting, the members voted to censure fellow 39th LD republican candidate Sam Low for his bipartisan endorsements and for not “ending his campaign against proven State Representative Robert J Sutherland.”

It is unsure if the 39th LD republicans will reconsider its endorsement of Rep. Sutherland given the latest reprimand and potential political and legal fallouts.

The Lynnwood Times has reached out to both candidates, but neither has provided an official statement.

One thought on “WA State House reprimands Rep Robert Sutherland for misconduct

  • March 27, 2022 at 8:06 PM
    Permalink

    It wasn’t an official endorsement by the 39th it was a Resolution that was put forth and was completely against the bylaws of the 39 the LD

    Reply

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