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Originally published October 3, 2012 at 6:25 PM | Page modified October 3, 2012 at 11:17 PM

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Minor campaign ethics violations by Sheriff Strachan found

The King County Ombudsman's Office on Wednesday said that Sheriff Steve Strachan violated the county's ethic's code twice during his current re-election campaign.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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King County Sheriff Steve Strachan violated the county's ethic's code twice by appearing in uniform during a Republican picnic and in campaign literature, the King County Ombudsman's Office said Wednesday.

The Ombudsman's Office found that Strachan violated the code when his campaign posted a photo of him in uniform on his campaign website and for appearing in uniform at a King County Republican Party picnic in July.

Strachan, on Wednesday, said "obviously, ethics are very important to me; we want to make sure we are doing this right."

Strachan said he was invited to the Republican picnic as the sheriff and that he "didn't do any campaigning" at the event.

While the ombudsman's report found both violations "minor and of minimal or no cost to the county," the findings were forwarded to the King County Prosecutor's Office for review, said Jon Stier, senior deputy ombudsman for King County.

Stier said that it is up to the prosecutor's office to decide whether "civil and or misdemeanor criminal penalties" are necessary. According to the ombudsman's report, Strachan can appeal the decision.

The King County Ombudsman's Office manages citizen complaints concerning King County government agencies.

Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff at the prosecutor's office, said, "We have just received the report; we'll review it."

"In situations, like this, we typically refer the matter to the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) for investigation and review, as they are the most appropriate agency to handle campaign issues. It's our understanding the PDC already has the same complaint before them. We will likely defer to them," Goodhew said.

Both the complaint to the Ombudsman's Office and the PDC were made by a Seattle attorney named Alex Wilford.

Wilford alleges that Strachan "appears to be using taxpayer resources in the course of his political campaign," according to the PDC complaint. Both complaints allege that Strachan was campaigning in uniform and used his county email to promote his campaign.

Wilford, in an interview, said he's interested in political issues and he once interned for Metropolitan King County Councilman Reagan Dunn.

The PDC complaint remains under investigation.

Strachan, who was appointed sheriff after Sue Rahr retired earlier this year, is running against John Urquhart in a contentious race. Urquhart is a retired sheriff's sergeant and longtime media spokesman. Strachan is the former chief of police in Kent and former Minnesota legislator.

Urquhart, on Wednesday, said in an email that "as police officers, we are held to a high standard and it's always disappointing when that standard is not met.

"This is yet another embarrassment for the sheriff's office from a man who has run for office twice before, and knows better," Urquhart said.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

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