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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Independent team signed for Shea investigation

Washington State Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, adjusts his laptop computer on the floor of the House, Monday, April 22, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

OLYMPIA – The state House of Representatives agreed Monday to pay a team of independent investigators as much as $120,000 to determine whether a Spokane Valley lawmaker has promoted political violence against any person or group.

The House clerk’s office announced it signed a contract with Rampart Group LLC, of Silverdale, Washington, to investigate Rep. Matt Shea, who earlier this year was reported to have been part of an online conversation where others advocated violence against political opponents.

A preliminary report is expected by the end of September with a final report by Dec. 1.

The contract lists the “scope of the investigation” as determining whether Shea has engaged in, planned or promoted political violence against groups or individuals and identifying the extent of his involvement with groups or individuals who promote, engage in or plan political violence. It also will assess the level of the threat of political violence posed by these individuals and groups.

House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, said he thinks the contract was properly structured to find investigators who are competent and not biased.

“It’s right to investigate concerns about political violence…to find out if there’s truth or there’s not,” Wilcox said. “It’s not right to investigate people’s political beliefs.”

House Chief Clerk Bernard Dean agreed the focus of the investigation will be on Shea’s activity: “This not an investigation of his views.”

Reports of an online “chat” in 2017 that included Shea first surfaced in The Guardian and later were expanded by The Spokesman-Review that indicated the Valley legislator joined the discussion in which others suggested violence against left-wing protestors.

The other participants said the talk of violence was “tongue in cheek” and that Shea joined the conversation later. But a portion of the chat obtained by The Spokesman-Review indicated he joined the discussion on the same day one participant suggested confronting activists in their homes and work places and five days before another described slamming a woman’s face into a traffic barrier and shaving her head with a military combat knife.

Shea didn’t engage in the discussion of violence but offered to conduct background investigations on liberals.

In the final days of the 2019 session, the House Republican Caucus had initially planned a “formal review” of the online discussion, but majority Democrats demanded an independent investigation and the House Executive Committee of three Democrats and two Republicans voted 3-2 for the investigation.

The GOP review was suspended and contacts are being turned over to the independent investigators, Wilcox said.

Dean said Monday the House had hired Rampart, which is headed by a former FBI special agent in charge and a former law enforcement officer who worked in both internal affairs and narcotics, both of whom have extensive experience in private security.

The search took about three months to find what Dean described as “the right qualifications and background,” and included a check into political contributions of the principals. According to Public Disclosure Commission records, Rampart CEO Kathy Leodler has one contribution of $250 to Jenny Durkan, a former U.S. attorney, for her 2017 campaign for Seattle mayor.