Whidbey cop accused of rape quits job after internal inquiry

The report was unsparing in its allegations against John Nieder, who is set to go to trial May 6 in Skagit County Superior Court on two counts of rape in the second degree.

OAK HARBOR — An internal investigation of a former Island County Sheriff’s Office deputy accused of rape describes previously undisclosed accusations against him as well as extensive details of the criminal case.

Four women and one man have accused John Nieder, who was formerly a sergeant, of sexual assault or harassment during his 22 years with the department, but he managed to keep his job until last fall. Sheriff Rick Felici points to labor law, action by an arbitrator, inconclusive evidence and a lack of reporting as reasons for Nieder’s longevity. In addition, the sheriff’s office didn’t follow up on a rape allegation from 2020.

Neider is set to go to trial in Skagit County Superior Court May 6 on two counts of rape in the second degree. The alleged sexual assaults did not occur while he was on duty. He is accused of raping two women he met through a dating app.

Nieder has denied any wrongdoing. Skagit County detectives suspected that 51-year-old Nieder had drugged the alleged victims, but a blood test from one of the women didn’t show the presence of any of the usual “date rape” drugs, according to a report by the detectives. The tests weren’t comprehensive, however, and it’s unclear if additional testing took place.

Nieder was placed on paid administrative leave by Sheriff Felici after the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office arrested him in October 2022. On Oct. 6, 2023, Felici notified Nieder that the internal investigation provided clear and convincing evidence that just cause existed to terminate him for policy violations. Prior to the pre-disciplinary Loudermill hearing, at which Nieder would have a chance to give his side of the story, he instead resigned.

After Nieder was charged in the rape case, Felici hired Greg Wilson of Public Safety Testing to conduct the internal investigation. Felici said in an interview that he wanted to ensure the investigation was as independent and non-biased as possible, so he went with an outside firm. Under the Supreme Court’s Garrity ruling, the internal investigation likely cannot be used in the criminal case against Nieder.

The Whidbey News-Times obtained a redacted copy of the 600-page internal investigation through a public records request. The request was made in October but was not released until this month.

“Nieder’s prior disciplinary history (sustained allegation of sexual harassment),” Wilson wrote in the report, “the alleged misconduct, Nieder’s admissions of the same (admittedly putting his hands on the necks of the victims to restrict the blood flow to the brain), and the arrest and subsequent filing of rape charges, more likely than not have a significant impact on the Sheriff’s Office and the community it serves.”

The News-Times has reported extensively on accusations against Nieder; many of the news stories are part of the internal investigation file. Nieder was previously accused of sexually harassing a female detective and, years later, a male deputy. The former sheriff fired him after the first allegation, but the deputy’s union appealed and an arbitrator ordered him reinstated despite finding that sexual harassment did occur.

The former sheriff later promoted Nieder to sergeant; Felici, who was part of the administration at the time, argued against the promotion. In September 2022, the county settled a sexual harassment lawsuit for $105,000 with former deputy Mike Adrian, who accused Nieder of touching him inappropriately. Nieder kept his position.

The report on the internal investigation contains a previously uninvestigated allegation from a former emergency dispatcher who alleged Nieder attempted to sexually assault her the day before a deputy’s wedding on Camano Island in 2015. People attending the event rented cabins in Cama Beach State Park and were decorating the day before. She told the interviewer that Nieder, who she didn’t know well, sat down next to her and asked to see her breasts, which she felt was totally inappropriate.

After leaving the room, she told a friend, who was a deputy, that she didn’t want to be left alone with Nieder again. But her friend disappeared and she went looking for him. She walked inside a cabin and turned around to find the door blocked by Nieder, she said. He kicked the door closed and started taking off his belt, she told the investigator, and she was “scared to death.” She threatened to scream and he replied, “‘You think I couldn’t keep you quiet,’ or something to the effect,” the woman said.

She again told him she would scream and added that there were three deputies outside the door. He then let her leave, she said.

The woman said she told another deputy afterward about the incident, but he dismissed it, accusing her of flirting. She told the interviewer she definitely had not flirted and was already uncomfortable with Nieder from an earlier incident in which he asked her at work about breastfeeding.

Nieder later told the investigator that the incident was a misunderstanding, according to the redacted copy of his interview with Wilson. He claimed that another deputy told him that the woman would show her breasts to him if he asked. He reported he closed the door after she looked at it, and he thought she wanted privacy to show him. He denied taking off his belt.

Felici said it was frustrating to learn of this incident years later and was disappointed that no other deputies told him about the party, although he didn’t know who might have heard about the woman’s allegations. He said deputy Adrian alluded to the incident when he complained about Nieder but refused to give her name, so the sheriff wasn’t able to investigate it. Adrian told the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office about the allegations after Nieder was arrested for investigation of rape.

Felici said knowing about the allegations likely would have impacted his earlier decisions about Nieder.

The report describes an interview with a woman who reported being stalked years ago and felt that Nieder and another deputy treated her without compassion when responding to her report. She said she got a “bad vibe” from Nieder and felt he was creepy. The woman didn’t report the concerns to the sheriff’s office because she felt nothing would happen.

In fact, several people told Skagit County detectives that they felt the Island County Sheriff’s Office was protecting Nieder. Felici adamantly denied this.

The administration investigated Adrian’s allegations against Nieder but found them inconclusive. Adrian complained that his accusations weren’t taken seriously and the administration’s refusal to separate him from Nieder during work was unacceptable. As part of his settlement with the county, Adrian agreed to quit.

The Skagit County Sheriff’s Office alerted Felici in 2020 to the first rape allegation against Nieder. The woman was going through a difficult divorce at the time and didn’t want to pursue a charge; she later agreed to move forward after the second woman described a similar experience.

The Island County Sheriff’s Office, however, didn’t look into the allegation in 2020. As a result, the administration did not know if the woman would have been willing to cooperate with an internal investigation, which is much less public than a criminal investigation.

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