A Stevens County couple has decided to go public with the reason they sued, and won, a case against Stevens County related to unethical behavior in the Stevens County Sheriff and Prosecutor’s office.
Taylor and Shawn Kueck, of Rice, recently sent an editorial to local media outlets entitled “Why we sued Stevens County” outlining the reasons they pursued a civil suit against the county in 2013. The couple recently won their suit in May with a settlement of $67,000.
Kueck said he was working as a private investigator for public defense attorney Jim Irwin in 2013 on an assault case against a woman named Kelly Taylor when he discovered some of the statements from key witnesses in the case didn’t line up, according to the lawsuit. When Irwin and Kueck brought this to the attention of the Stevens County Prosecutor and Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Gilmore, Kueck said he was threatened and was told to not “go barking up that tree.” Deputy Gilmore and former Stevens County Deputy Prosecutor Matt Enzler also went to Irwin’s office at a later date and reiterated that they would need to read Kueck “his rights” if he wanted to testify in the assault case and not to “bark up that tree.”
Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rassmussen then charged Kueck in Sept. of 2013 in Stevens County Superior Court with one count of working as an unlicensed private investigator, a crime that holds a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail or a $5,000 fine. The charge prevented Kueck from any further work as a private investigator while the charge was pending.
The Prosecutor’s office, in outlining their rationale for charging Kueck, said they began to look into Kueck’s licensing status after a complaint from a Chewelah pharmacy owner, one of the people Kueck interviewed in researching the assault case against Taylor.
In the meantime, the Stevens County Prosecutor pushed ahead with the assault trial against Taylor. Taylor had a jury trial in December 2013 and was fully acquitted on all counts.
Citing a possible conflict of interest, the Stevens County Prosecutor transferred the Kueck case to the Washington State Attorney General in January 2014. However, the Attorney General declined to prosecute, noting that Kueck’s work for Irwin qualified for one of the situations where a private contractor could work exclusively for one attorney without holding a private investigator license.
Kueck has since obtained a private investigator license from the state, but said in his lawsuit against the county that the retaliatory actions by the county officials and employees have effectively prevented him from working as a P.I. again. The Kuecks also filed a public records request to get documents related to Shawn’s licensure charge, but the county withheld documents. Because the public records request was not fully answered, the Kuecks sued the county in March of 2015 for violating the Public Records Act. The county decided to settle the case with the Kuecks in May for the amount of $67,000. The settlement agreement recognized the Public Records Act violations, but excluded any wrongdoing on the part of Prosecutor Rasmussen or Deputy Gilmore.
While the county did settle on the public records violations, some public officials involved in the situation say that the criminal charge against Kueck regarding his private investigator license came up not because the county was trying to hide something in the assault case, but because Kueck’s work was unprofessional. In March of this year, Judge Allen Nielson said in court documents that he did not “have confidence” that Kueck “fairly and impartially conducts his investigations” and said he would not approve Kueck working for the courts in the future.
By Jamie Henneman/The Independent Staff