Investigation at Denney Juvenile Justice Center slams Gipson

EVERETT — A sprawling workplace investigation at Snohomish County’s Denney Juvenile Justice Center has documented sexually charged workplace behavior that could have serious repercussions for Everett City Councilman Ron Gipson, both as a public employee and a public figure.

Investigators concluded that Gipson, 57, dated at least one mother of a Denney juvenile detainee, creating a conflict of interest. Gipson says that conclusion is “absolutely not true.”

Gipson and other Denney employees were also found to have made sexually suggestive and racially inappropriate comments in violation of workplace rules. Similar forms of sexual harassment go back at least a decade at the juvenile justice center.

It’s Gipson’s name, however, that appears most consistently in 792 pages of reports obtained by The Daily Herald through state public records laws.

“As I’ve always said, we didn’t do this stuff,” Gipson said. “Innocent people have been hurt.”

Gipson, who brought binders full of documents to an interview this week, said he will respond more at another time. “There are a lot of irregularities and inconsistencies in the reports that I’ve seen,” he said.

Gipson was placed on paid leave in January 2014, one week after a woman corrections officer accused him of sexual harassment. Another juvenile corrections supervisor also was put on leave. He returned to work in May.

In February 2014, the county hired employment attorney Marcella Fleming Reed and her Mill Creek firm, MFR Law Group, to investigate various complaints.

The investigation already has cost taxpayers more than a half million dollars.

Gipson said he’s being targeted for his stature in the community. Some of his accusers claim he uses his standing to bully them. In office for 20 years, he’s Everett’s longest-serving City Council member. He’s up for re-election this year.

“They’re piling on me because I’m the big fish,” he said. “I’m the council member.”

Exhaustive review

The investigators had a lot on their plate. They ended up interviewing the entire juvenile corrections staff — 76 people — and conducted 171 interviews.

They eventually catalogued complaints from 13 different corrections officers and supervisors. They identified accusations against 22 people of various types of wrongdoing, from the trivial to the criminal.

The woman’s initial January 2014 complaint was followed a few weeks later by a damage claim, saying she and two other women were subjected to physical sexual harassment, slurs and an atmosphere of intimidation, and that they suffered retaliation when they attempted to notify managers.

They sought $450,000 each. The county settled their claim in December for $750,000.

After being placed on leave last year, Gipson and two supervisors complained that they were being subjected racism at work. In the report released this week, investigators determined that evidence didn’t support their discrimination complaint.

Another complaint was made by a white female corrections officer who said some of her black co-workers were mistreating her because of her race. Investigators determined her complaint also was unfounded.

Denney is run by Snohomish County Superior Court, which is taking the report’s findings seriously, said Marilyn Finsen, who assumed the job of Superior Court administrator in January.

“This is not just a matter of going back to work was usual,” Finsen said. “We have some cultural and systemic things to address.” In 2006, the county paid three different women juvenile corrections officers a $500,000 settlement for similar workplace problems involving different male co-workers.

Finsen doesn’t believe that safety or the well-being of any young detainees has been compromised. Denney can house up to 120 boys and girls younger than 18 for criminal and truancy cases.

“This was (about) staff relations, many times outside the workplace,” she said. She declined to say what discipline Gipson or others might face, if any. Under county policies, consequences could include coaching or training, reprimands, suspensions or firing.

The investigation has cost taxpayers $511,365 so far. That includes legal bills of $390,783. Another $120,582 has gone toward miscellaneous expenses, including clerical work and covering shifts while corrections staff sat for interviews.

Credibility doubted

The MFR lawyers’ report concluded that Gipson sexually harassed female co-workers and subjected them to racially offensive language. Investigators said Gipson had to know the conduct violated county policies and ignored a supervisor’s order to stop.

Female co-workers complained about Gipson making suggestive comments at work. They claimed he made references to “sweet, dark chocolate,” which they understood as innuendo.

A former UW football player, Gipson admits to engaging in locker-room talk at work.

“Am I guilty of bantering? Yes, I talk with the guys,” he said.

MFR lawyers spent nearly seven hours in April interviewing Gipson in the presence of his attorney. They found Gipson hard to believe, according to their report.

“MFR does not find Mr. Gipson credible because he made sweeping across-the-board denials of wrongdoing inconsistent with the weight of the evidence,” the report says. “By denying information MFR knew to be true, Mr. Gipson made it difficult to rely on the information he provided that might indeed be true.”

The report also finds credibility problems with many of the claims against Gipson. Gipson and some of his accusers were once close and often socialized together outside of work.

Investigators looked into more serious accusations from co-workers that Gipson subjected them to physical threats and even violence, but found those claims unsubstantiated — or too murky to reach any conclusion. Some of those allegations centered on events outside the workplace that were never relayed to managers, or only reported years later.

Hired in late 1996, Gipson is the second in seniority among all of Denney’s correctional officers. That gives him dibs on overtime shifts, which can earn him a respectable amount of cash — and, he said, the envy of co-workers. He has drawn $111,614 in salary and benefits for the 13-plus months he’s been on leave.

Gipson has served on the Everett City Council continuously since winning his first election in 1995. Married for more than 30 years, he has three children, from their late teens to early 30s.

The investigation has already taken a toll. “It’s been hell on my family,” he said. “I’ve just been maintaining my family.”

As a public employee, Gipson is entitled to a pre-disciplinary hearing before the county takes any action.

“All I want is a fair hearing,” he said. “If I lose, I’ll take it like a man.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

Dave Calhoun speaks during a 2017 interview in New York. (Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg)
Lawmakers to confront Boeing CEO on mounting quality and safety issues

Before the Tuesday hearing, a congressional subcommittee accused Boeing of mismanaging parts and cutting quality inspections.

School board members listen to public comment during a Marysville School Board meeting on Monday, June 3, 2024 in Marysville, Washington. Rinehardt is seated third from left. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Marysville school board president resigns amid turmoil

Wade Rinehardt’s resignation, announced at Monday’s school board meeting, continues a string of tumultuous news in the district.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

A BNSF train crosses Grove St/72nd St, NE in Marysville, Washington on March 17, 2022. Marysville recently got funding for design work for an overcrossing at the intersection. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
BNSF owes nearly $400M to Washington tribe, judge rules

A federal judge ruled last year that the railroad trespassed as it sent trains carrying crude oil through the Swinomish Reservation.

Everett Housing Authority is asking for city approval for its proposed development of 16 acres of land currently occupied by the vacant Baker Heights public housing development on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett inches closer to Park District affordable housing plan

Building heights — originally proposed at 15 stories tall — could be locked in with council approval in July.

Mountlake Terrace maintenance crew Ty Burns begins demolishing “the bunkers” on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Eyesore no more: After decades, Mountlake Terrace bunkers bite the dust

The bunkers held a storehouse of history, much of it moldy, outdated and unwanted.

The intersection of Larch Way, Logan Road and Locust Way on Wednesday, March 27, 2024 in Alderwood Manor, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Roundabout project to shut down major Bothell intersection for months

The $4.5 million project will rebuild the four-way stop at Larch and Locust ways. The detour will stretch for miles.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.