A Sexual Misconduct Investigation at a Rural Sheriff’s Department Highlights Gaps in State Police Oversight Laws

An Okanogan County Sheriff's Truck
An Okanogan County Sheriff’s Vehicle (Flickr: Diamondback Covers)

By Paul Kiefer

Maddesyn George spent much of the past year sitting in a cell in the Spokane County jail, awaiting her sentencing in an increasingly visible federal murder case. George, a 27-year-old from the Colville Reservation in north-central Washington, says she shot and killed her rapist in July 2020. After Colville tribal police took her into custody, she elaborated, telling prosecutors that the victim—Kristopher Graber, a man who sometimes sold her methamphetamine—had raped her at gunpoint at his house in Omak a day earlier. She stole his gun and fled, but she did not call 911 to report the rape to police in Omak: a detail that became relevant to her case, when prosecutors challenged her rape allegations. A day later, Graber caught up to her on the reservation, where George shot him with his own gun.

When tribal and federal prosecutors asked George why she hadn’t called the police to report her rape, she mentioned that she had reasons not to trust law enforcement in Omak. At the time, her reasoning seemed obvious: George is a Native American woman with a record of substance abuse, and she did not trust the county sheriff’s office to treat her fairly. But in late September, with her sentencing hearing approaching, George revealed another reason why she did not initially report her rape to local law enforcement: An Okanogan County Sheriff’s detective named Isaiah Holloway.

In purely geographic terms, Okanogan County is the largest in the state. But in many ways, the county is a small place. The remote stretch of mountains and plateaus along the Canadian border has a population of just 40,000; the largest town, Omak, is home to 5,000 of them. And the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Department, which patrols most of the county, has only three dozen sworn officers. In an agency as small as the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Department, a single case of misconduct can escalate dramatically. And Isaiah Holloway, at the center of two sexual misconduct complaints, is a prime example.

A fundamental lack of oversight on nearly every level in Washington leads to situations like the one that is still unfolding in Okanogan County, which highlights shortcomings in state rules about police officers and consent—and the power of law enforcement and prosecutors to decide whether misconduct matters.

George first recalls meeting Holloway during a traffic stop on a hot summer day in 2014, when Holloway stopped the car driven by a friend of hers to arrest the driver on a warrant from the Washington Department of Corrections. After placing her friend in handcuffs, Holloway began flirting with George, who was sitting in the passenger seat. When he asked to keep in touch, she gave him a fake phone number.

“A couple of days later, he tracked me down at a friend’s house,” she wrote in her statement to the federal court. “I still don’t know how he found me. He came to the door and said that it was ‘f—-d up’ that I gave him a fake number.” From that point on, she couldn’t avoid Holloway. For months, she wrote, Holloway regularly messaged her on Facebook, at one point telling her “that if [she] didn’t go out on a date with him,” she would “face greater scrutiny from police.” On other occasions, she added, he asked her to “get a room” with him. Increasingly uncomfortable with Holloway’s attention, George moved to a new town to avoid him. So when Graber allegedly raped her in Omak—a town within Holloway’s jurisdiction—George argues that she had a reason not to call 911.

George’s statement to the court didn’t include any evidence of Holloway’s alleged harassment. But she isn’t the first person to accuse Holloway of sexual misconduct; in fact, the detective admitted to another inappropriate sexual relationship last spring. However, because of holes in Washington’s laws about oversight for police and prosecutors—and about police officers and sexual consent—Holloway’s confession remained buried for nearly a year.

Washington state law is mostly silent on the question of consent between police officers and vulnerable people they meet in the course of their law enforcement work, which makes it easy for officers to pursue dubiously consensual sexual “relationships” without facing consequences. And one of the few potential long-term punishments for committing sexual misconduct—inclusion on a so-called “Brady List” of untrustworthy officers, which can make it harder to perform some key duties of a police officer—is entirely up to local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, who get to draw their own conclusions about what makes the cut.

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A fundamental lack of oversight on nearly every level in Washington leads to situations like the one that is still unfolding in Okanogan County, which highlights shortcomings in state rules about police officers and consent—and the power of law enforcement and prosecutors to decide what kinds of misconduct matter.

The pivotal investigation into Holloway began with a phone call to Deputy Rochelle Cline, the department’s communications manager, in March 2020. According to the caller, Holloway was having a sexual affair with a woman—who, for privacy reasons, PubliCola will refer to as B—whose history of addiction often landed her in the hands of the sheriff’s department; the caller also alleged that Holloway helped the woman “get out of her charges.” The caller was B’s brother.

The following afternoon, Holloway texted Cline unprompted, admitting to his relationship with B. He told Cline that his father’s death in 2017 and a 2019 incident in which he shot and injured a murder suspect had sent his mental health into a downward spiral. “I have tried to cover it all up for this ‘tough guy’ cop job I thought we had to be,” he wrote. “Instead of seeking help, I fell into a world of porn addiction, sexting and now an affair. I need help and I’m not sure where to turn to.” Cline, along with Sheriff Tony Hawley, drove to Holloway’s house to put him in touch with a counselor. Later that night, the department placed him on administrative leave.

Holloway did not respond to PubliCola’s requests for comment on the investigation and George’s allegations. 

The ensuing investigation provided only a little clarity. B herself denied having any intimate relationship with Holloway—a claim Cline quickly dismissed. Holloway told Cline that his “affair” with B began when he caught B with stolen property in December 2019. Instead of arresting her, Holloway relied on B to find the suspected thief; he also passed her his personal phone number. While he admitted to having sex with B twice while off-duty, he denied that he had helped her avoid arrest, pointing to an incident in which he ticketed her for driving with suspended license.

B’s family, on the other hand, insisted that Holloway was not simply having an affair; in their view, he was taking advantage of a woman struggling with addiction. B herself was unavailable to comment, but her brother told Cline he that suspected Holloway helped his sister avoid arrest. B’s sister made similar allegations when she spoke to Cline during the misconduct investigation, recalling that B was frustrated when Holloway didn’t intervene to stop a fellow officer from arresting her for theft. In her investigation report, Cline claimed that other sheriff’s officers had booked B into custody 12 times between April 2019 and March 2020 alone—evidence, she wrote in her report, that Holloway was not protecting B from his colleagues in exchange for sex.

A state law passed earlier this year specified that law enforcement officers can’t engage in consensual sex with a “person incarcerated or detained,” and provides an avenue for proving that an officer coerced a person into sex without formally detaining them, although this can be challenging to prove after the fact.

In May, the sheriff’s office concluded that Holloway had violated a half-dozen department rules, including policies prohibiting officers from using their positions for personal gain and from developing close relationships with “practicing criminal[s].” As punishment, the department suspended Holloway for three days without pay. Less than a year after this brief suspension, the office promoted Holloway from deputy to detective, assigning him largely to sex crimes cases.

Holloway’s disciplinary record at the Okanogan Sheriff’s Office doesn’t mention the possibility that he took advantage of B’s addiction and criminal record to coerce her into sex. Washington law prohibits officers from having sex with people in custody—doing so would constitute sexual assault—but according to Riddhi Mukhopadhyay, the director of the Seattle-based Sexual Violence Law Center, state law is less clear when it comes to officers’ sexual relationships with informants, drug users and others in vulnerable positions.

Aside from a state law passed earlier this year to improve Washington’s civil protection order system, which specified that law enforcement officers can’t engage in consensual sex with a “person incarcerated or detained,” state law is silent on the issue of police officers and sexual consent. State law does not address scenarios in which officers coerce a person into sex without formally detaining them: an encounter than can be challenging to prove after the fact.

The same is true for a quid-pro-quo exchange of sex for leniency: if an officer offers not to arrest someone in return for sex, the arrangement might not leave any paper trail. Even if a police officer did coerce a vulnerable person into sex, the victim might not feel safe enough to blow the whistle. “Based on the power dynamics of sexual violence,” Mukhopadyay said, “we know that predators in positions of power will target and victimize someone who is particularly vulnerable and could be easily dismissed—a victim with a criminal history, a victim who may have mental health issues, a victim in a subordinate position.”

One possible solution would be to pass a law that clearly defines when an officer can have sex with a vulnerable person they’ve come into contact with as a direct result of their work, or banning such sexual relationships altogether. However, because it’s difficult to define who is “vulnerable,” Mukhopadyay says that the legislature might have trouble setting tighter rules about sexual consent for police officers. Instead, she said, the solution might depend on a broader shift in how law enforcement agencies think about consent. “Unless there is a drastic shift in values and understanding of rape culture, it is very difficult to hold authority figures accountable,” she said.

Prosecutors concerned about potential sexual coercion by officers could have included Holloway on a list of law enforcement officers who have records of dishonesty or bias, known as Potential Impeachment Disclosure (PID), or “Brady,” lists. US Supreme Court case law requires prosecutors to share the names of officers on PID lists with defense attorneys, who can then challenge the testimonies of so-called “Brady officers” by citing the officers’ credibility issues. Testifying in court is a key part of a police officer’s job, so if a department doesn’t fire an officer for their misconduct, they may never receive a promotion again. However, state law also prohibits law enforcement agencies from firing or refusing to hire officers solely because of their placement on a Brady list, though an agency can fire or refuse to hire an officer based on the misconduct that landed them on a Brady list.

According to internal emails obtained by PubliCola, the sheriff’s staff didn’t believe that Holloway’s relationship with B was significant enough to justify placing him on a Brady list, and staff in the prosecutor’s office simply hadn’t asked about Holloway’s misconduct record—despite relying on his testimony in several cases, including a murder trial.

The Okanogan County Prosecutor’s Office didn’t initially put Holloway on its Brady list—in fact, the office doesn’t keep a formal Brady list at all. According to internal emails obtained by PubliCola, the sheriff’s staff didn’t believe that Holloway’s relationship with B was significant enough to justify placing him on a Brady list, and staff in the prosecutor’s office simply hadn’t asked about Holloway’s misconduct record—despite relying on his testimony in several cases, including a murder trial.

Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a new law to tighten Washington’s enforcement of Brady rules, namely by requiring each county to create written standards for adding officers to Brady lists by 2022. According to Representative John Lovick (D-44, Mill Creek), the goal of the new law is to set clearer rules about what kinds of misconduct can land a law enforcement officer on the Brady list. Until now, he said, many counties have simply placed officers on their Brady lists on a case-by-case basis.

While the new law requires sheriffs to update prosecutors when an officer commits misconduct that could land them on a Brady list, Lovick noted that the law doesn’t require prosecutors to ask about the misconduct records of police officers it uses as witnesses. “You have to trust people to do the right thing,” he said. “It comes down to integrity on the part of the officer, integrity on the part of the sheriff’s office, and integrity on the part of the prosecuting attorney.”

The Okanogan County Prosecutor’s Office remained unaware of Holloway’s misconduct until the spring of 2021, when Maddesyn George’s defense attorney—a Spokane-based lawyer named Steve Graham—got his hands on a copy of Cline’s investigation and alerted the prosecutor. In April, under pressure from the county’s lead public defender, Melissa MacDougall, the prosecutor’s office sent letters more than a dozen local defense attorneys to alert them of Holloway’s suspension. The letters only noted that the sheriff’s department had suspended Holloway for ethics violations; they did not include the details of his misconduct.

In a subsequent email to MacDougall, a deputy prosecutor maintained that “reasonable minds” could differ about whether Holloway belonged on a Brady list. As the office prepares its new standards for adding officers to their Brady list, it will have to consider whether sexual relationships like Holloway’s are always enough to undermine officers’ credibility.

One of the attorneys who received a letter about Holloway was Richard Gilliland, the defense attorney representing a man named Lance Bowers in an upcoming murder trial in Okanogan County. Holloway was one of two Okanogan County Sheriff’s deputies who tracked Bowers to a remote general store in June 2019 after local fire crews found the body of Bowers’ wife in the trunk of a burning car. During the ensuing confrontation, both deputies shot and injured Bowers, later claiming that he flashed a handgun.

Holloway later alluded to the shooting in his text message to Cline in March 2020, citing it as one of the events that triggered his downward spiral—including his relationship with B.

In late August, Gilliland filed a motion in Okanogan County Superior Court to dismiss the case because of “governmental misconduct” on the part of the county prosecutor’s office, and the year-long silence about Holloway’s suspension featured prominently in his argument. Though the court hasn’t yet responded to Gilliland’s motion, the mention of Holloway’s misconduct record has already left a mark. A week after Gilliland filed his complaint, Judge Christopher Culp recused himself from the case, citing a conflict of interest: his nephew is Okanogan County undersheriff Aaron Culp, the commanding officer who reprimanded Holloway before his suspension.

Meanwhile, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office is processing a new complaint alleging sexual misconduct by Holloway—this time by an acquaintance of Maddesyn George.

Whether other people have filed sexual misconduct complaints against Holloway in his decade with the sheriff’s office is difficult to ascertain, in large part because the sheriff’s office doesn’t have any records of civilian complaints filed between 2012 and 2019. Beth Barker, the civil deputy in charge of the office’s records, says she doesn’t know who was responsible for recording citizen complaints during the seven-year period.

On November 17, Federal District Court Judge Rosanna Peterson sentenced George to six-and-half years in prison for the shooting, as well as for stealing cash and methamphetamine. Though federal prosecutors pushed for a 17-year sentence—well beyond the minimum sentence required by federal law for her crimes—Petersen took the opposite approach, opting to hand down a sentence several years below the required range. When explaining her decision, Petersen said that she believed George’s account of sexual assault, and she mentioned Holloway by name.

9 thoughts on “A Sexual Misconduct Investigation at a Rural Sheriff’s Department Highlights Gaps in State Police Oversight Laws”

  1. I agree with Darin, this Holloway shit isn’t even made a dent in how fucked up the county and its law enforcement is.. my brother Alex Vega was reported missing and you know what the response was from Tony Hawley? He has warrants he doesn’t want to be found.. in a video interview with a reporter he made that statement over a year later his body is found in the river and to badly decomposed to find any evidence or do any investigation at all.. Since when is one human life less then another’s because of a warrant? Only in Okanagan County and others I’m sure would they choose not to help a family who begged them and said something was wrong and he was missing please help a boy not even 21 yet and now we will never have answers or closure
    Because wrote it off as an accident cause u failed to do your fucking jobs in the first place.

  2. The comment from Holloway is not true. That man has been on a power trip for a long time.. What he did to me after just getting out of a wheelchair is so wrong.. no OK no did anything.. drop their case against me.. and went on with his bullshit.. check 2014 case or get ahold of me a N.V d I’ll share HIS EVIL BULLSHIT

  3. She is definitely not the only one. I have lived in this area my whole life and I personally know someone who was inappropriate touched, had photos taken by that officer and then humiliated by the police as it was sent around to the other officers. Resulting in people loosing their job for speaking up!

  4. Steve Willie and Darin don’t care about dirty cops, duly noted. Steve Willie, once again with the “why aren’t you reporting on the bad stuff that is happening elsewhere” non-response. Super commentary once again, Steve Willie. Thanks for showing your alliance with Steve right out of the gate, Darin, helps me weed out ever taking you seriously.

    1. YourFakeName: wow. Darin is not agreeing with me. Please get a full psychological evaluation before posting again. Now we know whose comments to ignore.

  5. Paul: Don’t you think you have enough to report about in Seattle? Are you now the self-appointed statewide police investigator? Slow news day? Why don’t you report on the “organized mass theft” in Chicago and San Francisco which was caused by policies similar to the ones you openly support for Seattle? ….. and which may soon be coming to Seattle? You won’t call it looting. What will your excuses be? … Covid, hunger, global warming? Get your fake excuses ready. Steve Willie.

    1. Steve Willie, if Paul doesn’t report on a rural area with corruption from top to bottom who will? He is doing this county a huge service by exposing this situation to the rest of the world.

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