WA State House reprimands Rep. Robert Sutherland for misconduct

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

“These actions violate the House of Representatives Policy on Retaliation and a Respectful Workplace and the Legislative Code of Conduct,” the letter states. “Also, because your behavior potentially violates RCW 42.52.070, Special Privileges, we will refer this matter to the Legislative Ethics Committee for further review.”

During a speech at a rally on the campus of the State Capitol 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 said to the law enforcement official, “F*** You.”

Below is the video of Rep. Sutherland’s speech on March 5and rally. A recount of the event begins at the 50 second mark. After a minute, Rep. Robert Sutherland said, “Excuse my French, but I looked at it and said, ‘Fuck you. You won’t stop us.

Background to the survey

Sutherland’s remarks to the Sergeant-at-Arms came after he was barred from entering the state capitol building because he failed to pass the required COVID test. House members had 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 access their offices or the House bedroom floor.

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

According to the letter of reprimand, the official investigation determined that Friday, March 4andSutherland was escorted out of the John L. O’Brien Building, the location of his office, because he “failed to follow house testing protocols by not testing for COVID-19.”

On Saturday, March 5, Sutherland made multiple attempts to enter the John L. O’Brien Building in violation of House’s testing protocols. The Sergeant-at-Arms arrived around 11:07 a.m. to help resolve the situation. As the Sergeant-at-Arms explained why he couldn’t let Rep. Robert Sutherland (R-Granite Falls) into both the John L. O’Brien and the Legislative Building, Sutherland shouted, “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 conflicting statements during the official investigation which, according to the letter’s condition, are “concerning and contribute to a lack of credibility about your [Sutherland’s] part.”

Below is a summary of the alleged inconsistencies with Sutherland’s testimony during the investigation:

  • First written statement
    • The Sergeant-at-Arms threatened with intimidation with violence and Sutherland was dragged into a shouting match.
  • Investigative interview on March 8
    • Sutherland said he did not remember what was said and that the Sergeant-at-Arms initiated the foul language. But when confronted with the statements at the March 5 rally, Sutherland admitted what he had told the Sergeant-at-Arms.
    • The security video contradicts Sutherlands’ claim that the Sergeant-at-Arms rushed to his vehicle yelling at him in an agitated state. Surveillance video and eyewitnesses also contradict Sutherland’s claim that the Sergeant-at-Arms engaged in conversation in a way that made him “fear of hurting himself”, as alleged Sutherland.
  • Second declaration written on March 10
    • Sutherland’s revised written statement includes the foul language he used towards the Sergeant-at-Arms, but omits the part he alleged the Sergeant-at-Arms acted in a threatening manner. He adds information about the Sergeant-at-Arms rushing towards Sutherland from his car.

“Your multiple conflicting versions (rally podium statements, 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 that absolves you. of your conduct,” Bernard Dean, chief clerk of the House of Representatives, wrote in the letter of reprimand.

He continued: “You said in the investigative interview that you immediately felt remorse for your behavior, but you bragged about your behavior about an hour after the incident while speaking at a rally on campus (as captured on Twitter) Calling the staff member you had recently incitedly interacted with on the podium, claiming that you were nearly arrested, could potentially have caused harm to the individual or other other security guards 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 was retaliatory in nature – a violation of House policy.

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

Implications and next steps

The letter of reprimand was heavily geared towards Rep. Sutherland’s actions and accused the elected two-term 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…Furthermore, your caucus leadership has previously provided you with verbal advice about similar inappropriate behavior with staff.”

Sutherland has been asked to take a refresher course on Respectful Workplace Expectations and must complete House-approved constructive conflict coaching by June 22, 2022. Failure to do so would result in personnel access restrictions.

Since Sutherland’s actions may have violated RCW 42.52.070, Special Privileges, the matter was referred to the Legislative Ethics Committee for further review.

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

It is unclear whether any of the testimony provided by Sutherland was sworn or under penalty of perjury or whether the Sergeant-at-Arms is considering civil legal action against Representative Sutherland.

Republican 39and Legislative District Endorses Robert Sutherland

On the evening of March 21, members of the Republican Party 39and LD endorsed Rep. Sutherland for reelection to the state House of Representatives. During the meeting, members voted to censure colleagues 39and Republican LD candidate Sam Low for his bipartisan endorsements and for not “ending his campaign against tried State Representative Robert J Sutherland”.

It is not certain that the 39and LD Republicans will reconsider their endorsement of Rep. Sutherland given the latest rebuke and the potential political and legal fallout.

The Lynnwood Times contacted both candidates, but neither provided an official statement.