Urquhart: Investigators talking to a dozen people about Holiwell case

While former King County Sheriff’s Deputy Darrion Holiwell is behind bars, an internal investigation into other possible criminal connections is ongoing.

King County Sheriff John Urquhart answered a few questions about Holiwell and the investigation during a press conference Monday announcing James Pugel as the county’s new chief deputy.

Holiwell, 49, was a firearms instructor at the Ravensdale firing range and a member of SWAT, the King County Sheriff’s Office Tactical Team. He pleaded guilty last week to three felonies — promoting prostitution in the second degree, first-degree theft and selling steroids, a controlled substance — and will serve one year and a day in prison. Urquhart fired Holiwell July 15.

According to King County Prosecutor’s Office charging documents, Holiwell told his wife, a former exotic dancer, to start an escort business, which was a front for prostitution. The theft charge involved stealing brass casings and turning them in for credit to three local vendors and using the money as a personal slush fund. He also stole live ammunition.

Urquhart said during a June 19 press conference that two other deputies with alleged connections to the case were placed on paid administrative leave and were being investigated.

Urquhart said Monday he was pleased that Holiwell pleaded guilty “because clearly we thought he was guilty” and that the department is working through an internal investigation, talking to about a dozen people.

“Most of them are not suspects, but we need clarification and we’re going to do our due diligence by talking to all of them,” Urquhart said. “So it’s an ongoing process.”


New Chief Deputy

Pugel, the Seattle Police Department’s former interim chief of police, takes over for Anne Kirkpatrick, who retired from the sheriff’s office in June.

Pugel, 55, spent 31 years in law enforcement before briefly retiring in January. During the press conference, Urquhart said Pugel will add experience and a fresh perspective to the position.

“I could not be happier,” Urquhart said. “I could not have more confidence in Jim and he’s a great choice.”

Pugel will begin his role on Sept. 1 and earn around $173,000, Urquhart said.

Pugel said he had a “good break” during his temporary retirement but was excited to be back in law enforcement. He said a main goal is improving relations and trust with the public.

Urquhart said no other candidates were interviewed and dismissed a question of whether members of the sheriff’s office would be upset about being passed over by someone from the outside.

“I think my people are better than that,” Urquhart said. “I think they understand that what’s best for the organization is what’s best for them.”


LEAD program

Urquhart said Pugel will help as the county continues working on the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which is described as “a pre-booking diversion pilot program developed with the community to address low-level drug and prostitution crimes in the Belltown neighborhood in Seattle and the Skyway area of unincorporated King County.”

The program allows officers to redirect low-level offenders to community-based services instead of jail.

Urquhart said, if done correctly, the LEAD program will save the county a “tremendous amount” of money.

“Low level drug crimes have incarcerated an entire generation of young people, and mostly people of color,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out another way to do that. I said during the campaign, I-502 is one way to do that, the LEAD program is another way to do that and I’m sure there are other things we can do as well as we go forward. We have to be open to that.”

“We cannot arrest our ways out of society’s problems, and I’ve heard Jim say that as well,” Urquhart continued. “I’m not sure which one of us coined the phrase - it was probably me.”


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