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.
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.” Continue reading “A Sexual Misconduct Investigation at a Rural Sheriff’s Department Highlights Gaps in State Police Oversight Laws”